‘Near-impossible’ to stop London-style attack: Israeli security expert

FILE PHOTO: A man walks next to a newly erected concrete barriers at the entrance to Jabel Mukaber, in an area of the West Bank that Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed to the city of Jerusalem, the morning after a Palestinian rammed his truck into a group of Israeli soldiers on a popular promenade in Jerusalem January 9, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

By Luke Baker

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Attacks like the one in London are almost impossible to stop, the former head of VIP protection at Israel’s Shin Bet security agency said on Thursday, acknowledging that even Israel struggled to prevent them.

Despite building a barrier intended to prevent Palestinian attackers protesting against occupation entering from the West Bank, Israel has suffered dozens of low-tech vehicle or knife attacks in the last two years on civilians, police and soldiers.

“What happened in London was basically in a public area and, when it comes to public areas, it’s nearly impossible (to prevent),” said Shlomo Harnoy, who spent 25 years in the Shin Bet, sometimes coordinating protection for U.S. presidential visits. He now directs Sdema Group, a global security consultancy.

“There are ideas to build public areas to counter specific security threats, especially when it comes to explosive materials, but when it’s an attack on a bridge or something like that, it’s very difficult.”

In Wednesday’s attack, the suspect drove his rented vehicle into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before stabbing a policeman at the entrance to the Houses of Parliament. Four people were killed and at least 40 injured. The attacker, identified by police as British-born, was shot dead.

In Israel, Palestinians have rammed cars and trucks into civilians or members of security forces standing in particular at bus stops, tram stations and security posts.

In January, four soldiers were killed and 17 injured when a Palestinian drove his truck at high speed into a group of cadets waiting by the side of the road in Jerusalem.


Steel bollards have been put up in sensitive areas, and there are now concrete blocks stopping vehicles from approaching tram stops.

But Harnoy said that “you can’t put concrete blocks and barriers everywhere, especially in the center of a city like London. It can’t be like a military installation”.

“To my mind, the best solution for stopping an attack is having people who know how to use arms, including civilians,” he said.

In Israel, police carry guns, it is not uncommon to see armed soldiers on the streets, and many civilians, most of whom have done army service, carry pistols. When attacks occur, video footage often shows civilians drawing weapons at the scene.

“But of course in Britain that is very difficult,” Harnoy said. “Even most police don’t carry weapons. For me, that is one of the mistakes in Britain, not allowing police to have weapons.”

Even in Israel, Harnoy is not convinced that most civilians who carry a weapon are sufficiently trained to handle an attack.

He also noted that Israel allowed its intelligence services more freedom to dig up background information on individuals than Britain, which had to strike more of a balance with privacy and human rights.

“This is a war,” said Harnoy. “When it comes to intelligence, you need 10 to 15 years of information on people, and in doing that you have to think carefully about their rights, about the balance between freedom and security.

“To implement such an intelligence system, you have to make a different balance with democratic rights.”

(Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Middle-aged London attacker was criminal who wasn’t seen as threat

Flowers are placed at the scene of an attack on Westminster Bridge, in London, Britain March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Staples

By Michael Holden

BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) – Before he killed at least four people in Britain’s deadliest attack since the 2005 London bombings, Khalid Masood was considered by intelligence officers to be a criminal who posed little serious threat.

A British-born convert to Islam, Masood had shown up on the periphery of previous terrorism investigations that brought him to the attention of Britain’s MI5 spy agency.

But the 52-year-old was not under investigation when he sped across Westminster Bridge on Wednesday, plowing down pedestrians with a hired car before running into the parliamentary grounds and fatally stabbing an unarmed policeman.

He was shot dead by police.

Although some of those he was involved with included people suspected of being keen to travel to join jihadi groups overseas, Masood “himself never did so”, said a U.S. government source, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Britain’s senior counter-terrorism police officer, Mark Rowley, told reporters: “Our investigation focuses on understanding his motivation, his operation and his associates.”

He added: “Whilst there is still no evidence of further threats, you’ll understand our determination is to find out if either he acted totally alone, inspired perhaps by terrorist propaganda, or if others have encouraged, supported or directed him.”

Islamic State claimed responsibility for Masood’s attack, although it was unclear what links – if any – he had with the militant group. Police said there had been no prior intelligence about his intent to mount an attack.

“An act of terrorism tried to silence our democracy,” Prime Minister Theresa May told parliament. “He took out his rage indiscriminately.”


Born Adrian Russell Ajao in Kent to the southeast of London on Christmas Day in 1964, he moved though several addresses in England, although he was known to have lived recently in Birmingham in central England.

The Daily Mail newspaper said he was brought up by his single mother in the town of Rye on England’s south coast, later converting to Islam and changing his name. Other media reports said he was a married father of three and a former English teacher who was into bodybuilding.

One soccer team photograph of Masood, taken at school in southern England, showed the future attacker smiling.

Little detail has been given by the British police about the man and what might have led him to carry out Wednesday’s attack, the deadliest in Britain since the London suicide bombings of 2005 by four young British Islamists, which killed 52.

Known by a number of aliases, he racked up a string of convictions, but none for terrorism-related offences. His occupation was unclear.

It was as long ago as November 1983 that he first came to the attention of authorities when he was found guilty of causing criminal damage. His last conviction came 14 years ago in December 2003 for possession of a knife.

He may have taught in Saudi Arabia for four years from 2005 but there was no confirmation of this. A spokesman for the Saudi interior ministry referred Reuters questions to the British authorities.

“Our working assumption is that he was inspired by international terrorism,” said Rowley.

But Masood’s age does not fit the profile of militant attackers, who are typically younger than 30, according to counter-terrorism officers.

Rowley said detectives were questioning nine people in custody, having made two further “significant” arrests in central and northwest England.

Iwona Romek, a former neighbor from Birmingham, told reporters: “When I saw the pictures on TV and in the papers of the man who carried out the attack, I recognized him as the man who used to live next door.

“He had a young child, who I’d think was about 5 or 6 years old. There was a woman living there with him, an Asian woman. He seemed to be quite nice, he would be taking care of his garden and the weeds.”

In December, she said, he suddenly moved out.


Birmingham has been one of the hotbeds for British Islamists. According to a study by the Henry Jackson think tank earlier this month, 39 of 269 people convicted in Britain of terrorism offences from 1998 to 2015 came from the city.

Among those plots was one to kidnap and behead a British soldier. In December, two men were found guilty of planning to give 3,000 pounds ($3,750) to Brussels bombing suspect Mohamed Abrini – widely known as “the man in the hat”.

There are over 213,000 Muslims in Birmingham, making up over a fifth of the population, according to the 2011 census, and there has been growing concern about divisions in the diverse city.

“It has been disturbing today to learn of the apparent Birmingham connection to this atrocity,” said the Birmingham Faith Leaders Group, made up of representatives of major religions from the city. “We implore people to recognize that such actions are taken by individuals, not by whole communities.”

The car Masood used in Wednesday’s attack had been hired in Birmingham from rental firm Enterprise, suggesting he still had connections to the area.

Since the attack, police have raided a number of addresses across the city, arresting five men and two women on suspicion of preparing terrorist acts.

Masood may have rented an apartment close to the Edgbaston area of the city, not far from the Enterprise offices, and that was one of the properties raided by armed officers.

On the eve of the attack that May cast as an assault on democracy, Masood spent his last night in a budget hotel in Brighton on the south coast, where he ate a takeaway kebab, the Sun newspaper said.

Michael Petersen, a guest who saw him at the hotel reception, said Masood appeared polite and had done nothing to arouse suspicion.

“Nothing in his demeanor or his looks would have given me any thoughts that would make me think he was anything but normal,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington and Reem Shamseddine in Riyadh; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Mark Trevelyan)

‘What a mad world’ says minister who tried to save wounded officer in parliament

MP Tobias Ellwood listens to speeches in Parliament the morning after an attack in Westminster, London Britain, March 23, 2017. Parliament TV/Handout via REUTERS

LONDON (Reuters) – The government minister who tried to resuscitate a police officer stabbed to death in the attack on Britain’s parliament described the incident on Thursday, saying “what a mad world.”

Tobias Ellwood, 50, a junior minister in the foreign office, walked away from the scene with blood on his face and hands.

Ellwood’s brief includes counter-terrorism. Before entering politics he served in Northern Ireland, Kuwait, Bosnia and other countries during a six-year spell in the British army.

Speaking to Britain’s Times newspaper, he said: “What a mad world — tried to save officer but stabbed too many times.”

“I was on the scene and as soon as I realized what was going on I headed toward it,” he said. “I tried to stem the flow of blood and give mouth-to-mouth while waiting for the medics to arrive but I think he had lost too much blood. He had multiple wounds, under the arm and in the back.”

Ellwood, whose brother was killed in a bomb attack in Bali in 2002, was hailed as a hero by fellow lawmakers, and many of Britain’s tabloid newspapers featured images of him knelt over the body of the victim just inside the gates of parliament.

A Reuters witness saw him walk away from the body, which was later covered in blankets, before comforting others in the area.

(Reporting by William James; editing by Stephen Addison)

UK parliament attacker British-born, had been investigated over extremism concerns

Police work at Carriage Gate outside the Houses of Parliament. REUTERS/Neil Hall

By Elizabeth Piper and William James

LONDON (Reuters) – The attacker who killed three people near the British parliament before being shot dead was British-born and was once investigated by MI5 intelligence agents over concerns about violent extremism, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Thursday.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement issued by its Amaq news agency. But it gave no name or other details and it was not clear whether the attacker was directly connected to the group.

Police arrested eight people at six locations in London and Birmingham in the investigation into Wednesday’s lone-wolf attack that May said was inspired by a warped Islamist ideology.

About 40 people were injured and 29 remain in hospital, seven in critical condition, after the incident which resembled Islamic State-inspired attacks in France and Germany where vehicles were driven into crowds.

The assailant sped across Westminster Bridge in a car, ploughing into pedestrians along the way, then ran through the gates of the nearby parliament building and fatally stabbed an unarmed policeman before being shot dead. http://tmsnrt.rs/2napbkD

“What I can confirm is that the man was British-born and that some years ago he was once investigated by MI5 in relation to concerns about violent extremism,” May said in a statement to parliament.

“He was a peripheral figure…He was not part of the current intelligence picture. There was no prior intelligence of his intent or of the plot,” she said, adding that his identity would be revealed when the investigation allowed.

The mayhem in London took came on the first anniversary of attacks that killed 32 people in Brussels. Twelve people were killed in Berlin in December when a truck ploughed into a Christmas market and 84 died in July in a similar attack on Nice waterfront for which Islamic State claimed responsibility.

Islamic State, which is being driven from large areas of Iraq and Syria by local forces supported by a U.S.-led military coalition, said it was responsible for the London attack.

“The perpetrator of the attacks…is an Islamic State soldier and he carried out the operation in response to calls to target citizens of the coalition,” a statement on its Amaq agency said.

Westminster Bridge and the area just around parliament were still cordoned off on Thursday morning and a line of forensic investigators in light blue overalls were on their hands and knees, examining the scene where the attacker was shot.

The dead were two members of the public, the stabbed policeman and the attacker.

“My thoughts, prayers, and deepest sympathy are with all those who have been affected by yesterday’s awful violence,” Queen Elizabeth said in a message.

Britain’s plan to trigger the formal process of exiting the EU on March 29 will not be delayed due to the attack, May’s spokesman said.

Flowers are left outside New Scotland Yard the morning after an attack in London, Britain, March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay


It was the worst such attack in Britain since 2005, when 52 people were killed by Islamist suicide bombers on London’s public transport system. Police had given the death toll as five but revised it down to four on Thursday.

The casualties included 12 Britons, three French children, two Romanians, four South Koreans, one German, one Pole, one Chinese, one American and two Greeks, May said.

“We meet here, in the oldest of all parliaments, because we know that democracy and the values it entails will always prevail,” she said.

“A terrorist came to the place where people of all nationalities and cultures gather what it means to be free and he took out his rage indiscriminately against innocent men, women and children,” said May.

A minute’s silence was held in parliament and in front of police headquarters at New Scotland Yard at 0933 GMT, in honor of the victims — 933 was the shoulder number on the uniform of Keith Palmer, the policeman who was stabbed to death.

May was in parliament on Wednesday, a short distance away from the spot where the attacker was shot. She was swiftly whisked away as the chaos erupted, according to lawmaker Andrew Bridgen, who was nearby at the time.

A government minister was widely praised for trying to resuscitate Palmer, walking away from the scene with blood on his hands and face.

A crowdfunding page hastily set up to raise money for Palmer’s family attracted close to 20,000 pounds ($25,000)within three hours.

Some have been shocked that the attacker was able to cause such mayhem in the heart of the capital equipped with nothing more sophisticated than a hired car and a knife.

“The police and agencies that we rely on for our security have forestalled a large number of these attacks in recent years, over a dozen last year,” said defense minister Michael Fallon.

“This kind of attack, this lone-wolf attack, using things from daily life, a vehicle, a knife, are much more difficult to forestall,” he told the BBC.

Police officers salute during a minute's silence outside New Scotland Yard. REUTERS/Neil Hall

Police officers salute during a minute’s silence outside New Scotland Yard. REUTERS/Neil Hall


Three French high-school students aged 15 or 16, who were on a school trip to London with fellow students from Brittany, were among the injured.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who traveled to London to bring a message of solidarity, met some of the other students who were on the school trip and their families at a hotel near the hospital where the injured were being treated.

He told reporters the lives of the three youngsters were not in danger. Ayrault later attended the session in parliament where May spoke. France has been hit by repeated deadly Islamist attacks over the past two years.

A vigil was planned in London’s Trafalgar Square at 6 P.M.

Anti-immigration groups were quick to make links between immigration and the attack, though it was subsequently revealed the attacker was British-born.

Leave.EU, a group that has campaigned for immigration to be severely restrained as part of Britain’s exit from the European Union, accused mainstream politicians of facilitating acts of terror by failing to secure borders.

In France, far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen also drew a link, saying that events in London highlighted the importance of protecting national borders and stepping up security measures.

(Additional reporting by Costas Pitas, Kate Holton, Estelle Shirbon and Elisabeth O’Leary, writing by Estelle Shirbon, editing by Ralph Boulton)

Security tightened at UK sites in New York after London attack

A New York City Police (NYPD) Counter Terrorism officer patrols in Times Square in New York City, U.S., March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Laila Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York police ramped up security at British sites across the city on Wednesday after an assailant fatally stabbed a policeman outside Britain’s parliament and was then shot and killed by police.

Heavily armed officers and explosives-detecting dogs were deployed to locations including the British Consulate and the British Mission to the United Nations in Manhattan, senior New York Police Department officials told a news conference.

“You’ll see a larger presence of the dogs at these locations, as well as (officers) armed with the long guns,” said James Waters, the police department’s counterterrorism chief.

Police Commissioner James O’Neill said that while authorities were concerned about copycat attacks, there was no specific threat to New York City on Wednesday.

Outside the British Consulate, officers stood guard wearing helmets and tactical vests and carrying semi-automatic rifles. Several police cars were parked nearby, their lights flashing.

Police long-gun teams were also deployed to New York’s City Hall and Grand Central Station, the department said.

Four people died and at least 20 were injured in London after a car plowed into pedestrians and an attacker stabbed a policeman close to parliament in what police called a “marauding terrorist attack.”

New York police previously boosted security at prominent sites around the city after large-scale attacks in Paris, Brussels and San Bernardino, California, out of an abundance of caution.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it would lend support to Britain’s investigation of the attack but that the U.S. security posture was unchanged.

“We are in close contact with our British counterparts to monitor the tragic events and to support the ongoing investigation,” the department said in a statement.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Additional reporting by Timothy Ahmann in Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)

Scorched earth: If Islamic State can’t have it, no one can

FILE PHOTO: Graffiti sprayed by Islamic State militants which reads "We remain" is seen on a stone at the Temple of Bel in the historic city of Palmyra, in Homs Governorate, Syria April 1, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadik/File Photo

By Ali Abdelaty

CAIRO (Reuters) – As Islamic State loses ground in Iraq and Syria, the Sunni militant group which once held territory amounting to a third of those countries is turning to sabotage to ensure its enemies cannot benefit from its losses.

As the Syrian army and allied militias advanced under heavy Russian air cover on the ancient city of Palmyra three weeks ago, Islamic State leaders ordered fighters to destroy oil and gas fields.

“It is the duty of mujahideen today to expand operations targeting economic assets of the infidel regimes in order to deprive crusader and apostate governments of resources,” an article in the group’s online weekly magazine al-Nabaa said.

The strategy poses a double challenge to Baghdad and Damascus, depriving their governments of income and making it harder to provide services and gain popular support in devastated areas recaptured from the militants.

The March 2 article said operations by Islamic State in the area around Palmyra “prove the massive effect that strikes aimed at the infidels’ economy have, confusing them and drawing them … into battles they are not ready for.”

It’s not just oil wells the group has targeted. Twice in the last two years it has taken over Palmyra, about 200 km (130 miles) northeast of Damascus, and both times destroyed priceless antiquities before being driven out.

A Syrian antiquities official said earlier this month that he had seen serious damage to the Tetrapylon, a square stone platform with matching structures of four columns positioned at each corner. Only four of the 16 columns were still standing.

In their earlier occupation of the city, the militants ruined an 1,800-year-old monumental arch and the nearly 2,000-year-old Temple of Baalshamin.

However, the article in al-Nabaa suggested Islamic State sees the destruction of tangible economic assets as a greater weapon against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, who is from Syria’s Alawite minority.

“In the first days of the second conquest of Palmyra, where fighters secured the city and other vast areas to the west that include the Alawite regime’s last petrol resources … the Alawite regime and its allies rushed to the depth of the desert to reclaim them,” Islamic State wrote.

“But the caliphate’s soldiers had beaten them to the punch and destroyed the wells and refineries completely so that their enemies could not gain from them and so that their economic crisis goes on for the longest time possible.”


Islamic State, which declared a caliphate across large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014, has lost much territory and many fighters as it comes under attack from a U.S.-backed Iraqi offensive in Iraq and three separate ground forces in Syria.

Iraqi troops have recaptured most of Mosul, the largest city to be taken by the group and the base from which its leader proclaimed the caliphate. In Syria, the group has lost Palmyra and its main stronghold, Raqqa, is surrounded.

As well as destroying resources before they pull out, the militants have stepped up insurgent attacks in areas beyond their control, especially in Iraq.

“Any harm to the economic interests of these two governments will weaken them, be it an electricity tower in Diyala, an oil well in Kirkuk, a telecommunications network in Baghdad, or a tourist area in Erbil,” the article in al-Nabaa said.

It said those attacks would further stretch the group’s enemies by forcing them to defend economic interests, weakening their readiness for the battles to come.

Islamic State has caused about $30 billion in damage to Iraqi infrastructure since 2014, an adviser to the Iraqi government on infrastructure told Reuters.

“Daesh has used a mass destruction policy on factories and buildings with the aim of causing as much economic harm to Iraq as possible,” said Jaafar al-Ibrahimi, using an Arabic acronym for the group.

“Over 90 percent of infrastructure that has come under their hands was destroyed. Daesh burned all oil wells in the Qayyarah field south of Mosul.”

They also destroyed sugar and cement factories and transported the equipment to Syria, he said.

In Syria, the militants destroyed over 65 percent of the Hayan gas plant, the country’s oil minister told the state news agency. The Hayan field, in Homs province where Palmyra is located, produced 3 million cubic meters of natural gas per day.

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Trevelyan)

Year on from bombings, Brussels remains on alert

People take part in a rally called "The march against the fear, Tous Ensemble, Samen Een, All Together" in memory for the victims of bomb attacks in Brussels metro and Brussels international airport of Zaventem, in Brussels, Belgium, April 17, 2016. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

By Robert-Jan Bartunek and Alastair Macdonald

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A year after Islamic State suicide bombers killed 32 people in Brussels, Belgian authorities say much remains unclear about who ordered the attacks, even if those who staged them are either dead or in jail.

The March 22 bloodshed in Brussels hit Zaventem airport and a metro train, coming four months after bombings and shootings in Paris that killed 130 people. Both sets of attacks were carried out by related cells of young Muslims, some of whom had returned from fighting in Syria.

Since then, Belgium has remained on high alert as it tries to curtail threats both at home and from militants who may return from the Middle East.

“We will only have certainty when the situation in Syria and Iraq is resolved,” one senior official said of the inquiries into the Brussels attacks. Those two countries have attracted over 400 Belgians to join the ranks of Islamist militants, according to a study by the Hague-based International Centre for Counter-Terrorism.

That figure makes Belgium one of the biggest contributors to foreign jihadists in the Middle East in proportion to its population.

As the Belgian capital prepares to mark Wednesday’s anniversary with ceremonies timed to the moment the bombers struck, authorities are still unsure just who in the IS group organized and ordered the attacks, even though 59 people are in custody and 60 on bail.

The most recent arrest was in January, of a man suspected of providing forged identity papers to Khalid El Bakraoui, the 27-year-old suicide bomber who killed 16 people on a train at the downtown Maelbeek metro station.

With soldiers still a permanent presence around Brussels’ transportation hubs, security officials told reporters in briefings ahead of the anniversary that there was still a risk that armed militants were still at large.

For Belgian security services, some communities can remain hard to penetrate, such as the tight-knit Muslim neighborhood of Molenbeek where the prime suspect of the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, hid near his family home for four months. His arrest triggered his associates to strike Brussels four days later.

Despite efforts to detect and discourage the influence of violent Islamist ideas, young men who engaged in petty crime remain vulnerable to it, officials said. But surveillance over potential jihadists has intensified in the past year, they added

Only five Belgians were detected trying to leave for Syria last year, with only one succeeding, officials said, marking a contrast from the previous years.

That, however, has raised concerns, a senior security official told reporters, since Islamic State appeared to be issuing instructions to followers to “attack infidels at home”.

Some 160 Belgian citizens remain in Syria, officials estimate, but some 80 children have been born to them there, creating fears of a new risk.

“These children could be tomorrow’s danger,” the official said. “They’ve seen atrocities, they’ve been brainwashed. Some of them already received military training. We really have to work with them on their return.”

(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald and Robert-Jan Bartunek; Edited by Vin Shahrestani; @macdonaldrtr)

Four suicide bombers kill two in northeast Nigeria’s Maiduguri

National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) workers attend to a woman after suicide bombers detonated their explosives along Muna Garage in Maiduguri, Nigeria, March 15, 2017. NEMA/Handout via REUTERS

By Kolawole Adewale and Lanre Ola

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Four female teenage suicide bombers killed two people and injured 16 others in a residential area in the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, a disaster agency spokesman said on Wednesday.

The girls knocked on the door of a house and then detonated their devices, a representative of the state-run emergency service in Borno State said.

The focus on individual homes is a new tactic.

“Community leaders should create awareness among residents not to open their doors for anybody (if) they are not aware of the visit,” Borno police commissioner Damian Chukwu said.

The blasts in the Muna Garage area, on the edge of the city worst hit by jihadist group Boko Haram’s eight-year insurgency, occurred around 1:15 a.m (0015 GMT), National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) spokesman Abdulkadir Ibrahim said.

“Four female teenage suicide bombers and two other men died,” he said.

Hours later, suspected Boko Haram militants attacked the town of Magumeri, around 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Maiduguri, shooting indiscriminately and forcing locals to flee their homes, witnesses said.

Residents said the attackers burned down buildings and opened fire after arriving in vans and on motorcycles at around 05:00 p.m. (1600 GMT).

“They were shooting sporadically, one person was dead near them. The police station, village head’s house and other residences were burnt down,” civil servant Mustapha Aja said by telephone. He said he had been separated from his wife and children.

The number of attacks or attempted attacks bearing the hallmarks of Boko Haram in crowded areas, such as markets and refugee camps, has escalated since the end of the rainy season in late 2016.

Most of the attacks have either been foiled or the suicide bombers have only managed to blow themselves up.

The jihadist group has killed 15,000 people and displaced more than two million during its campaign to create an Islamic state governed by a harsh interpretation of sharia law in the northeast of Africa’s most populous nation.

It has also carried out cross-border attacks in neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Cameroon said on Wednesday that West African forces had freed 5,000 people being held in villages by Boko Haram, in an operation that killed more than 60 fighters and destroyed the jihadist group’s hideout along the Nigeria-Cameroon border.

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Kingimi and Ardo Abdullahi; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Catherine Evans)

UK terrorism reinsurance fund hopes to include cyber: CEO

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s 6 billion pounds ($7.3 billion) terrorism reinsurance fund hopes to extend its cover to include cyber attacks on property, chief executive Julian Enoizi said.

Pool Re, set up in 1993, acts as a backstop to insurers paying out claims on property damage and business interruption.

It is financed by the insurance industry with government backing, and pay outs depend on the British government deeming an attack to be terror-related, Enoizi said.

In 2002, Pool Re extended its cover to include chemical and biological attacks after the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

There have been several cyber attacks on property in recent years. In 2014, a German steel mill suffered damage to the plant’s network from a cyber attack.

Enoizi told Reuters that this and other incidents had been ruled out as terror attacks, but Pool Re needed to be prepared.

“Insurance is there for the unimaginable – we’re here to insure the unforeseen,” he said.

The fund has held discussions with the government and industry, and it hopes to add cyber to its coverage in the next few months, he added.

Enoizi said any increase in the premium costs to businesses for adding this cover would be accompanied by discounts for implementing government-approved cyber security policies.

The U.S. cyber insurance market is likely to have totalled about $3.25 billion in premiums in 2016, according to market survey The Betterley Report. The European market is seen as one-tenth of that, but demand has been increasing, insurers say.

Demand is expected to spike after EU legislation on data privacy is implemented by mid-2018. This will require companies to notify authorities of data breaches likely to harm individuals, similar to U.S. arrangements.

But most cyber policies relate to data loss, rather than attacks on property.

“We see this as a gap in the cover,” Enoizi said.

Cyber attacks on property worry businesses and insurers. These include an attack at some apartment buildings in Finland last year which knocked out the heating system when it was below freezing outside. This attack was not deemed an act of terror.

Insurers have said the source of a cyber attack is hard to prove, and most policies pay out regardless of the cause.

Pool Re’s cover would be limited to terror-related cyber attacks, once the British government assessed it to be an act of terrorism, Enoizi said.

(Reporting by Carolyn Cohn; Editing by Edmund Blair)

German shopping mall shut on police fears of an attack

Police at the Limbecker Platz shopping mall in Essen, Germany, March 11, 2017, after it was shut due to attack threat. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

ESSEN, Germany (Reuters) – Police in the western German city of Essen sealed off a shopping center in the center of town and ordered it to remain closed on Saturday due to concrete indications of a possible attack.

Germany is on high alert following major radical Islamist attacks in France and Belgium and after a failed asylum seeker from Tunisia drove a truck into a Berlin Christmas market in December, killing 12 people.

“Yesterday we received very serious indications from security sources that a possible attack was planned here for today and would be carried out,” a spokesman for Essen police told Reuters Television. “That is why we were forced to take these measures.”

Earlier, a police spokesman told a German broadcaster that they had viewed the threat as a possible “terrorist” attack.

Armed police and vans surrounded the shopping center, one of Germany’s biggest with more than 200 retail outlets, but roads nearby were open to traffic.

Essen, in the industrial Ruhr region, has nearly 600,000 inhabitants.

(Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Toby Chopra)