Accused Texas high school gunman described as bullied loner in a trench coat

A picture shows Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the suspect in the Santa Fe High School shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, U.S., in this undated picture obtained from social media, released on May 18, 2018. Courtesy GALVESTON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE/via REUTERS

SANTA FE, Texas (Reuters) – The teen accused of killing 10 people in a mass shooting at his Texas high school on Friday was described by fellow students as a quiet loner who played football but kept to himself and was reportedly the victim of some bullying.

The suspect, identified as 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis, was a junior at Santa Fe High School near Houston. Classmates remembered he often wore a trench coat, similar to the garment authorities said the assailant used to conceal the two firearms he carried into the school.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott told reporters the gunman was armed with a shotgun and a .38 revolver, both of which he had taken from his father. It was not known if the father was aware his son had possession of the guns.

While Abbott said there were few advance warning signs that the suspect had violent tendencies, one ominous social media post was an image of a black T-shirt with the words “Born to Kill” found on the Pagourtzis’ Facebook page.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the Facebook page also bore the image of a trench coat with Nazi insignia. The newspaper said classmates characterized Pagourtzis as unpopular and often the target of bullying.

“He was really quiet and wore like a trench coat every day,” Santa Fe High student Mateo Twilley, 15, told CNN on Friday afternoon. Twilley said he had played football with the suspect.

Another student, who was not identified, told reporters in a local television news interview Pagourtzis “stuck to himself. He never really talked to other people.”

The Houston Chronicle reported that a caption on the suspect’s Instagram page said, “we all die sometime.”

Pagourtzis was being held without bond Friday afternoon at the Galveston County Jail after being charged with capital murder, authorities said.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder in Santa Fe, Texas; Additional reporting by Jon Herkovitz in Austin. Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Tom Brown)

Toronto police eye deadly van attack suspect’s ‘cryptic message’

Mourners attend a makeshift memorial a day after a van struck multiple people along a major intersection in north Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegr

By Anna Mehler Paperny and Nichola Saminather

TORONTO (Reuters) – The man accused of plowing a rental van into pedestrians on a crowded Toronto sidewalk, killing 10 people in Canada’s deadliest mass killing in decades, left a “cryptic message” on social media before his attack, police said on Tuesday.

Suspect Alek Minassian, 25, was charged with 10 counts of murder and 13 counts of attempted murder in the incident.

One possible clue to his motive emerged on Tuesday as Facebook confirmed Minassian wrote a post before the incident that referenced an “incel rebellion.” The term is shorthand used in some online message boards for “involuntary celibacy”, a loose social media movement of men who blame women for their celibacy.

Canadian authorities have declined to say whether anger toward women had motivated the attack.

A mourner reacts at a makeshift memorial a day after a van struck multiple people along a major intersection in north Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

A mourner reacts at a makeshift memorial a day after a van struck multiple people along a major intersection in north Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

The post also voiced admiration for a man who killed six college students before taking his own life in California in 2014 and who cited the “cruelness of women” for his virgin status.

“The accused is alleged to have posted a cryptic message on Facebook minutes before” the attack, Graham Gibson, a Toronto police detective sergeant, told a news conference. The majority of the victims were women, ranging in age from their mid-20s to early 80s, Gibson said.

He said the question of whether the attack was driven by anger against women was “going to be part of our investigation.”

Facebook has since deleted Minassian’s account, a representative said. “There is absolutely no place on our platform for people who commit such horrendous acts,” she said in an email.

Minassian kept his shaved head down during a brief court appearance in Canada’s largest city, speaking quietly with a defense lawyer and stating his name in a steady voice when asked to do so.

The incident had the hallmarks of deadly vehicle assaults by Islamic State supporters. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there was no reason to suspect any national security connection.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory visit a makeshift memorial a day after a van struck multiple people along a major intersection in north Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory visit a makeshift memorial a day after a van struck multiple people along a major intersection in north Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Trudeau called on all Canadians to stand united with Toronto as flowers and scrawled messages in multiple languages piled up at a makeshift memorial in the city’s north end, an ethnically diverse neighborhood of towering office buildings, shops, restaurants and homes.

“We cannot as Canadians choose to live in fear every single day as we go about our daily business,” Trudeau told reporters outside of parliament in Ottawa.

The prime minister said the incident had not changed the country’s threat level or security preparations for a G7 summit in Quebec in June.

Minassian had briefly served in Canada’s armed forces in late 2017 but asked to be voluntarily released after 16 days of training, defense ministry spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande said.

The suspect’s two-story red-brick home in a suburb north of Toronto was a crime scene Tuesday, taped off and surrounded by police vehicles. Officers went in and out of the house.

SOUTH KOREANS AMONG VICTIMS

Details about the dead began to emerge on Tuesday, with a South Korean foreign ministry representative saying that two of that country’s citizens were killed and one injured in the attack. The representative spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.

A Jordanian citizen was also killed, said an official at the country’s embassy in Ottawa.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp identified one of the victims as Anne Marie D’Amico, an employee of asset manager Invesco Canada. In a statement, Invesco confirmed that one of its employees had been killed but did not name her.

It could be days before all the victims are publicly identified, said Ontario Chief Coroner Dirk Huyer said, adding that the extent of their injuries was making some identities difficult to determine.

“It ranges from scrapes and bruises to terrible injuries that I won’t get into discussing here,” Gibson added.

The attack shook the usually peaceful streets of Toronto, which recorded 61 murders last year.

The drama started at lunchtime on a warm spring day, when the driver drove his vehicle into the crowds. The street was soon covered in blood, empty shoes and bodies.

Last October, eight people died in New York when a man driving a rented pickup truck mowed down pedestrians and cyclists on a bike path. The Islamic State militant group encourages its supporters to use vehicles for attacks.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny and Allision Martell; Additional reporting by Andrea Hopkins in Ottawa; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)

Toronto van attack suspect faces murder charges in court

A damaged van seized by police is seen after multiple people were struck at a major intersection northern Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Saul Porto

By Allison Martell and Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – The driver suspected of killing 10 people and injuring 15 others when he plowed a rental van into pedestrians in Toronto made his first court appearance on Tuesday, where details of a motive for the attack were expected to emerge.

While the worst mass killing in Canada in decades has the hallmarks of other deadly vehicle assaults by Islamic State supporters in the United States and Europe, officials said it did not represent a threat to national security.

Suspect Alek Minassian, 25, entered a Toronto courtroom on Tuesday morning. His head was shaved and he was looking down as prosecutors announced they were charging him with 10 counts of first-degree murder.

The proceedings began after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the attack outside of parliament in Ottawa, calling on all Canadians to stand united with Toronto.

“We cannot as Canadians choose to live in fear every single day as we go about our daily business. We need to focus on doing what we can and we must to keep Canadians safe while we stay true to the freedoms and values that we all as Canadians hold dear,” Trudeau said.

The prime minister said that, while it would take time before the motives of the attacker were understood, the incident had not changed the country’s threat level or security preparations for a G7 summit in Quebec in June.

People left flowers at a makeshift memorial, which grew as commuters returned to work on Tuesday morning. Blank white posters left against a stone wall were covered with messages.

The Canadian flag was lowered to half-staff at parliament and at Toronto city hall.

Minassian, who was not previously known to authorities, attended a high school program where one classmate remembered him as “absolutely harmless.”

The officer who apprehended Minassian was praised for making a peaceful arrest even as the suspect shouted “Kill me” and claimed to have a gun.

Canadians mourned as the victims began to be identified on Tuesday.

“We are a peaceful, tolerant, free society. The horrific violence on Toronto’s Yonge Street will strengthen rather than undermine these truths,” columnist John Ibbitson wrote in the Globe and Mail national newspaper.

The attack shook the usually peaceful streets of Toronto, a multicultural city with a population of 2.8 million. The city recorded 61 murders last year.

Downtown Toronto’s iconic CN Tower, which is normally lit up in the evening, went dark on Monday evening.

The drama started at lunchtime on a warm spring day, when the driver drove his vehicle into the crowds. The street was soon covered in blood, empty shoes and bodies.

Canada is still recovering from the shock of a highway crash in Saskatchewan earlier this month that killed 16 people on a bus carrying a junior hockey team.

Last October, eight people died in New York when a man driving a rented pickup truck mowed down pedestrians and cyclists on a bike path.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny and Allision Martell; additional reporting and writing by Andrea Hopkins in Ottawa; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Jonathan Oatis and Jim Finkle)

Eight on trial for rape, murder of girl in India’s Kashmir amid public anger

Children attend a protest against the rape of an eight-year-old girl, in Kathua, near Jammu and a teenager in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh state, in New Delhi, India April 15, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

By Fayaz Bukhari

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – Eight men accused of involvement in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state appeared in court on Monday for the first hearing in a case that sparked nationwide outrage and criticism of the ruling party.

The girl, from a nomadic community that roams the forests of Kashmir, was drugged, held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in January, police said.

Public anger at the crime led to protests in cities across India over the past few days, with outrage fueled by support for the accused initially shown by state government ministers from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The protests have also focused on another rape allegedly involving a BJP lawmaker in the crime-ridden, most populous, poor northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

The outrage has drawn parallels with massive protests that followed the gang rape and murder of a woman on a Delhi bus in 2012, which forced the then Congress-led government to enact tough new rape laws including the death penalty.

Yet India has long been plagued by violence against women and children – reported rapes climbed 60 percent from 2012 to 40,000 in 2016, and many more go unreported, especially in rural areas.

Reports of torture, rape and murder of another child have emerged from Modi’s western home state of Gujarat.

In that case, the corpse of a girl was found near a cricket ground in the city of Surat a week ago.

The post-mortem showed she had been tortured and sexually assaulted before being strangled. The body had 86 injury marks, including some inflicted to her genitalia with hard, blunt objects, while more minor injuries suggest she had been beaten with a stick or slapped.

Doctors estimate that the unidentified girl was about 12, police said.

As the groundswell of revulsion grew, Modi assured the country on Friday that the guilty would not be shielded, but he has been criticized for failing to speak out sooner.

Before leaving for an official visit to Europe this week, Modi received a letter from 50 former police chiefs, ambassadors and senior civil servants upbraiding the political leadership over its weak response.

“The bestiality and the barbarity involved in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old child shows the depths of depravity that we have sunk into,” the former officials said.

“In post-Independence India, this is our darkest hour and we find the response of our government, the leaders of our political parties inadequate and feeble.”

The letter went further by blaming the BJP and likeminded right-wing Hindu groups for promoting a culture of “majoritarian belligerence and aggression” in Jammu, and in the Uttar Pradesh case it blasted the party for using feudal strongmen, who behave like gangsters, to shore up its rule.

The former officials said they held no political affiliation other than to uphold the values of India’s secular constitution that guarantees equal rights to all citizens. Some of the signatories have spoken out in the past also against Modi’s Hindu nationalist party accusing it of whipping up hostility towards India’s 172 million Muslims.

THREATS AGAINST LAWYER

Fallout from the 2012 rape case led to the resignation of Congress chief minister of Delhi. This time, Congress was quick to realize the mood of the country, with party leader Rahul Gandhi leading the first major protest in the capital last week.

On Monday, Gandhi tweeted that there had been nearly 20,000 child rapes in India in 2016, and urged Modi to fast-track prosecutions “if he is serious about providing ‘justice for our daughters'”.

Though the rape and killing of the girl in Kashmir had been known about for months, the backlash erupted after the charge sheet giving gruesome details of the crime was filed last week.

It alleged that the attack was part of a plan to drive the nomads out of Kathua district in Jammu, the mostly Hindu portion of India’s only Muslim-majority state.

The alleged ringleader of the campaign, retired bureaucrat Sanji Ram, looked after a small Hindu temple where the girl had been held and assaulted. Two of the eight on trial are police officers who stand accused of being bribed to stifle the investigation.

After Monday’s initial hearing in Srinagar, the judge adjourned the case until April 28 while the Supreme Court heard a petition from the lawyer representing the victim’s family to have the trial held elsewhere due to fears for her safety.

Ahead of the trial, the lawyer said she had been threatened with rape and death for taking up the case.

“I was threatened yesterday that ‘we will not forgive you’. I am going to tell Supreme Court that I am in danger,” said the lawyer, Deepika Singh Rawat, who has fought for a proper investigation since the girl’s body was found in January.

The Supreme Court also ordered security for the victim’s family after her father said he too feared for their safety.

Two ministers from the BJP, which shares power in Jammu and Kashmir, were forced to resign after being pilloried for joining a rally in support of the accused men.

(This version of the story corrects first paragraph below sub-head to show Delhi chief minister lost election, not forced to resign)

(Additional reporting by Suchitra Mohanty in NEW DELHI; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel)

Myanmar not ready for return of Rohingya Muslims, says UNHCR

FILE PHOTO: A Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton/File Photo

By Serajul Quadir

DHAKA (Reuters) – The U.N. refugee agency called a Myanmar minister’s visit to Bangladesh to meet Muslim Rohingya refugees a confidence-building measure, but said conditions in Myanmar were not ready for their return.

Myanmar Social Welfare Minister Win Myat Aye, who heads rehabilitation efforts in Myanmar’s troubled western Rakhine state, told about 50 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh on Wednesday that getting the repatriation process moving was top priority.

But the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Thursday Myanmar was not prepared.

“Conditions in Myanmar are not yet conducive for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of refugees,” it said in a statement, adding that the responsibility remains with the government to create such conditions.

According to U.N. officials, nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh from Rakhine to escape a military crackdown since August, amid reports of murder, rape and arson by Myanmar troops and Buddhist vigilantes which the United Nations has likened to “ethnic cleansing”.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar rejects the charge, saying its security forces launched a legitimate counter-insurgency operation on Aug. 25 in response to Rohingya militant attacks.

The refugees are living in cramped camps in the port of Cox’s Bazar and Bangladesh is keen for them to return home soon, especially with the oncoming monsoons expected to cause major devastation at the camps.

The UNHCR called on Myanmar to provide the agency unhindered access in Rakhine to assess the situation and monitor the return and reintegration of refugees if and when they voluntarily return.

Acknowledging the mistrust and fear of the Rohingya of Myanmar, Win Myat Aye told the group of refugees on Wednesday to set aside the past and to prepare to go back, promising new villages would be built with hospitals and schools.

But some refugees have said they are worried about going back, fearing persecution.

(Reporting by Serajul Quadir; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Nick Macfie)

‘Violent scourge’ on London streets as murder figures overtake New York

Forensic investigators examine a car on Chalgrove Road, where a teenage girl was murdered, in Tottenham, Britain, April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) – London police investigated more murders than New York over the last two months, statistics show, as the mayor’s office condemned a “violent scourge” on the city’s streets after another weekend of bloodshed.

A 17-year-old girl died after she was found with gunshot wounds in Tottenham, north London, and a man was fatally stabbed in south London on Sunday.

“The Mayor is deeply concerned by violent crime in the capital – every life lost to violent crime is a tragedy,” a spokeswoman for London Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a statement on Tuesday.

Forensic investigators examine the pavement and carriageway on Chalgrove Road, where a teenage girl was murdered, in Tottenham, Britain, April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Forensic investigators examine the pavement and carriageway on Chalgrove Road, where a teenage girl was murdered, in Tottenham, Britain, April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

“Our city remains one of the safest in the world … but Sadiq wants it to be even safer and is working hard to bring an end to this violent scourge.”

There were 15 murders in London in February against 14 in New York, according to London’s Metropolitan Police Service and the New York Police Department. For March, 22 murders were investigated in London, with 21 reports in New York.

Including January’s figures, there have still been more murders in New York, which has a similar-sized population to London, but British politicians and police are increasingly expressing concern about the higher UK numbers, driven by a surge in knife crime.

Britain’s most senior officer, London police chief Cressida Dick, said gangs were using online platforms to glamorize violence, adding that disputes between young people could escalate within minutes on social media.

“It makes [violence] faster, it makes it harder for people to cool down,” she told the Times. “I’m sure it does rev people up.”

Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said on Tuesday: “there can be no place in our society for violent crime. The government is determined to do everything it can to break the cycle.”

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Stephen Addison)

Rio de Janeiro Councilwoman, sharp critic of police killings, shot dead

A woman reacts next to a picture of the Rio de Janeiro city councillor Marielle Franco, 38, who was shot dead, during a demonstration ahead of her wake outside the city council chamber in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

By Brad Brooks

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – A popular Rio de Janeiro city councilwoman who was an outspoken critic of police killings of poor residents in shantytowns was gunned down in what police, prosecutors and even drug gang leaders said on Thursday looked like a political assassination.

Marielle Franco, 38, a rising star in the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), was killed along with her driver in northern Rio around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday night. Her press secretary survived the shooting on Rio’s dangerous north side.

The killing comes just weeks after the federal government decreed that Brazil’s Army would take over all security operations through the end of the year in Rio, where murders have spiked in recent years. Franco had harshly criticized that move on Sunday, saying it could worsen police violence against residents.

Demonstrators react outside the city council chamber ahead of the wake of Rio de Janeiro's city councillor Marielle Franco, 38, who was shot dead, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Demonstrators react outside the city council chamber ahead of the wake of Rio de Janeiro’s city councillor Marielle Franco, 38, who was shot dead, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

“It is far too soon to say, but were are obviously looking at this as a murder in response to her political work, that is a main theory,” said a Rio de Janeiro public prosecutor, who spoke on condition that he not be named as he was not authorized to discuss the case.

An investigator with Rio’s police force also said that the prime motive appeared to be Franco’s calling out police for allegedly killing innocents in their constant battles with drug gangs.

Franco, who was raised and lived in the Mare complex of slums, long one of Rio’s more dangerous areas, received over 46,500 votes in the 2016 election. That total was only bested by four of 51 council members.

On Sunday on her verified Facebook account, Franco decried what she alleged to be the police killing of two boys during a police raid in an area called Acari.

“We must scream out so that all know what is happening in Acari right now. Rio’s police are terrorizing and violating those who live in Acari,” Franco wrote. “This week two youth were killed and tossed into a ditch. Today, the police were in the street threatening those who live there. This has been going on forever and will only be worse with a military intervention.”

Calls to the police unit assigned to the Acari area were not returned. In a Sunday statement to the O Dia newspaper, police confirmed they carried out an operation in the area, were fired upon by drug traffickers, returned fire but had no knowledge of any deaths.

The car in which Rio de Janeiro city councilor Marielle Franco was shot dead is towed from the crime scene in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

The car in which Rio de Janeiro city councilor Marielle Franco was shot dead is towed from the crime scene in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Franco was raised and lived in Mare, a complex of slums where about 130,000 residents must contend with the presence of Rio’s two most powerful gangs – the Red Command and the Pure Third Command, along with militias often made up of off duty or retired police and fireman, who are as feared as the gangs.

High-level members of both the Red Command and the Pure Third Command told Reuters their gangs had nothing to do with the killings. It was impossible to reach any militia members.

Raul Jungmann, who heads the federal government’s newly created Public Security Ministry, said at an event in Sao Paulo that what Franco’s killing was “a tragedy.”

“Another lamentable daily tragedy that takes place in Rio de Janeiro. We must understand extremely well the reasons behind this and go after those responsible,” he said. “But this does not put at risk the federal intervention.”

Jungmann said that federal investigators would be involved in the investigation and that he had put Brazil’s federal police at the disposition of local investigators.

Vigils and protests were planned in at least seven major cities across Brazil and about 150 members of the PSOL party carried flowers and signs into Brazil’s federal Congress on Thursday demanding justice.

The United Nations office in Brazil and Amnesty International demanded a quick and transparent investigation into Franco’s killing.

(Additional reporting by Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Simoes in Sao Paulo and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Editing by David Gregorio)

Britain knows more about mystery substance behind illness of Russian double agent

Police officers stand outside a pub near to where former Russian inteligence officer Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious after they had been exposed to an unknown substance, in Salisbury, Britain, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

By Toby Melville

SALISBURY, England (Reuters) – Britain said on Wednesday that investigators now knew more about a mystery substance that struck down a former Russian double agent and his daughter in an English city, in a case that threatens to further damage already strained ties with Moscow.

Sergei Skripal, once a colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, were found slumped unconscious on a bench outside a shopping center in the southern English city of Salisbury on Sunday afternoon.

Both remain critically ill in intensive care.

British politicians and media have speculated that Russia may have been behind the suspected poisoning of a man it regards as a traitor. Moscow has strongly rejected any involvement.

“We do know more about the substance and the police will be making a further statement this afternoon in order to share some of that,” interior minister Amber Rudd said after chairing the government’s emergency response committee.

“We need to keep a cool head and make sure that we collect all the evidence we can and we need to make sure that we respond not to rumor,” Rudd said. “Then we will need to decide what action to take.”

Counter-terrorism police are leading the investigation and Britain’s military research laboratory at Porton Down is trying to identify the substance which caused Skripal, 66, and his daughter to collapse.

The suspected poisoning prompted Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to say on Tuesday that if Moscow were behind the incident then Britain could look again at sanctions and take other measures to punish Russia, which he cast as a “malign and disruptive” state.

On Wednesday Russia reaffirmed its view that allegations of Russian involvement in the case were being cynically used to whip up an anti-Russian campaign in Britain.

“It’s very hard not to assess this (speculation) as provocative black PR designed to complicate relations between our two countries,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters in Moscow.

A source close to the British investigation said that Russian involvement in the Skripal poisoning was just one of the versions being looked at by counter-terrorism investigators with assistance from the MI5 domestic intelligence agency.

Police said new cordons had been added near Solstice Park, a business park, in the town of Amesbury near to Salisbury. They have sealed off the area of Salisbury where Skripal was found as well as the Zizzi pizza restaurant where they dined and the Bishop’s Mill pub where they had a drink.

Some emergency workers were treated after the incident and one remains in hospital.

“NEED TO DETER RUSSIA”

The British capital has been dubbed “Londongrad” due to the large amounts of Russian wealth which have flowed westwards since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union. It is the Western city of choice for many oligarchs from the former Soviet Union.

Britain has specifically drawn parallels with the 2006 murder of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko who was killed with radioactive polonium-210 in London.

A previous British inquiry said Russian President Vladimir Putin probably approved the murder of Litvinenko, who died after drinking green tea laced with the rare and very potent radioactive isotope at London’s Millennium Hotel.

It took three weeks for British doctors to ascertain that Litvinenko had been poisoned by polonium-210 by which time he was at death’s door.

Russia denied involvement in the death of Litvinenko, which the British inquiry said had been hatched by the Federal Security Service (FSB), main successor to the Soviet-era KGB.

Former British defense minister Michael Fallon called for a stronger response if Russia was involved in the Skripal affair.

“We’ve got to respond more effectively than we did last time over Litvinenko. Our response then clearly wasn’t strong enough,” Fallon told Reuters. “We need to deter Russia from believing they can get away with attacks like this on our streets if it’s proved.”

Litvinenko’s murder sent Britain’s ties with Russia to what was then a post-Cold War low. Relations suffered further from Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its military backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The suspected poisoning of Skripal has come shortly before Russia’s presidential election on March 18, which Putin is expected to win comfortably, extending his rule by a further six years. The former KGB officer has been president since 2000.

Russia’s FSB arrested Skripal in 2004 on suspicion of betraying dozens of Russian agents to British intelligence. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2006 after a secret trial.

In 2010 Skripal was given refuge in Britain after being exchanged for Russian spies caught in the West as part of a Cold War-style spy swap at Vienna airport.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Michael Holden; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Accused Florida high school gunman due in court, facing 17 murder counts

A man placed in handcuffs is led by police near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School following a shooting incident in Parkland, Florida, U.S. February 14, 2018 in a still image taken from a video. WSVN.com via REUTERS

By Bernie Woodall and Zachary Fagenson

PARKLAND, Fla. (Reuters) – A 19-year-old man who had been expelled from his Florida high school was due in court on Thursday, charged with 17 counts of murder, after authorities say he opened fire at the school, unleashing one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

The ex-student, identified as Nikolas Cruz, 19, walked into the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Wednesday and opened fire on students and teachers, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said. Police believe he acted alone.

Cruz was expected to appear in court Thursday afternoon for a bond hearing, faced with 17 counts of premeditated murder, said Constance Simmons, a spokeswoman for the state attorney’s office.

Cruz was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and had multiple ammunition magazines when he surrendered to officers in a nearby residential area, police said. He loved guns and was expelled for unspecified disciplinary reasons, police and former classmates said.

The shooting in a community about 45 miles (72 km) north of Miami was the 18th in a U.S. school this year, according to gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, continuing a troubling pattern that has played out over the past few years.

It was the second-deadliest shooting in a U.S. public elementary or high school after the 2012 massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

The deadliest school shooting in U.S. history was at Virginia Tech in 2007, when 32 people were killed.

The Florida shooting stirred the long-simmering U.S. debate on the right to bear arms, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Schools across the country have installed electronically secured doors and added security staff, but few legislative solutions have emerged.

“So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior,” U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter on Thursday. “Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”

Trump, who ordered flags to fly at half-staff in a sign of mourning, plans to address the nation from the White House at 11 a.m. EST (1600 GMT), a spokeswoman said.

A law enforcement officer is assigned to every school in the Broward County district, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High board member Donna Korn told a local newspaper. The sheriff’s office also provides active shooter training and schools have a single point of entry, she said.

“We have prepared the campuses, but sometimes people still find a way to let these horrific things happen,” Korn said.

The first victim of the attack was publicly identified on Thursday as Aaron Feis, an assistant coach on the school’s football team and a school security guard who was shot while shielding students, the team said on Twitter.

 

Nikolas Cruz appears in a police booking photo after being charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder following a Parkland school shooting, at Broward County Jail in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. February 15, 2018. Broward County Sheriff/Handout via REUTERS

Nikolas Cruz appears in a police booking photo after being charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder following a Parkland school shooting, at Broward County Jail in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. February 15, 2018. Broward County Sheriff/Handout via REUTERS

‘THE WORST IN HUMANITY’

Hundreds of panicked students fled the building, running past heavily armed, helmeted police officers while others huddled in closets.

Parents raced to the school of 3,300 students and a nearby hotel that was set up as a checkpoint to find their children.

“This has been a day we’ve seen the worst in humanity,” Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said Wednesday.

The assailant wore a gas mask as he stalked into the school carrying a rifle, ammunition cartridges and smoke grenades, then pulled a fire alarm, prompting students and staff to pour from classrooms into hallways, according to Florida’s two U.S. senators, who were brief by federal authorities.

Cruz had recently moved in with another family after his mother’s death in November, according to Jim Lewis, a lawyer representing the family and local media, bringing his AR-15 along with his other belongings.

The family believed Cruz was depressed, but attributed that to his mother’s death, not mental illness.

“They didn’t see any danger. They didn’t see any kind of predilection this was going to happen,” Lewis told CNN.

Cruz may have left warning signs on social media. Buzzfeed reported that a person named Nikolas Cruz left a comment under a YouTube video that read “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” The man who posted the video was alarmed and contacted the FBI, Buzzfeed reported.

Reuters was unable to immediately confirm those details.

Colton Haab, a 17-year-old junior and member of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at the high school, said he realized the alarms were not a drill after hearing several shots fired and learning that three people had been shot.

“That for me changed it to an active shooter scenario,” he said. Haab rushed to his ROTC room and helped usher several dozen students inside, barricading them behind curtains made of Kevlar, a material used to make bullet-proof vests.

“We grabbed two pieces of two-by-four, a fire extinguisher and a chair,” Haab said. “If he was going to try to come in the room we were going to try to stop him with whatever we had.”

(Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Parkland, Florida, Jonathan Allen in New York, Susan Heavey in Washington and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by John Stonestreet and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Malaysia further downgrading ties with North Korea a year after airport assassination

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, who is on trial for the killing of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader, is escorted as she arrives at the Shah Alam High Court on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia January 22, 2018. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

By Rozanna Latiff and A. Ananthalakshmi

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – One year after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother was assassinated at Kuala Lumpur’s airport, Malaysia is further downgrading once-close ties with Pyongyang, sources familiar with the government’s plans said.

Kim Jong Nam was assassinated on Feb. 13, 2017 when two women smeared his face with VX nerve agent – which the U.N. lists as a weapon of mass destruction. The women claim they were tricked into believing they were part of a reality show, but U.S. and South Korea say the murder was orchestrated by Pyongyang.

The brazen killing came as North Korea was starting to accelerate its missile tests and countries around the world came under mounting pressure to enforce ever-tightening U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang.

The repercussions from the killing are still being felt.

Malaysia is considering reducing the staff size of the North Korean mission in Kuala Lumpur to four by not renewing requests to replace diplomats when their terms end, according to a diplomatic source and an advisor to the government. Both declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Malaysia is also turning down invitations to participate in North Korean events. A diplomatic source with direct knowledge of the situation said Malaysia declined an invitation to send an envoy to attend last week’s military parade in Pyongyang.

“It’s just too dangerous,” the source told Reuters, referring to the Malaysian diplomats North Korea stopped from leaving the country last year.

The Malaysian foreign ministry declined to comment.

Meanwhile, trade and business ties have all but dried up.

A Malaysian businessman, who until recently imported coal from North Korea, said he stopped buying from Pyongyang – even before U.N. sanctions that banned all trade of North Korean coal – because the purchases were drawing a lot of attention after the Kim Jong Nam killing.

TRAVEL BAN

Ties quickly deteriorated after North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia questioned the credibility of the police investigation into the assassination, insisting Kim Jong Nam was an ordinary citizen who had died of a heart attack.

Malaysia recalled its ambassador to North Korea, banned its citizens from traveling to the North and canceled visa-free entry for North Koreans.

North Korea retaliated with a travel ban on all Malaysians in Pyongyang, trapping three diplomats and six family members. They were able to fly out only after Malaysia agreed to hand over Kim Jong Nam’s corpse and send three North Koreans wanted for questioning back to North Korea.

Pressure from the United States has been mounting on Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries to cut trade and diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, as President Donald Trump seeks support for tougher action against nuclear-armed North Korea.

Malaysia said last year it was considering permanently closing its embassy in Pyongyang and moving North Korea services to its Beijing mission. It has not been staffed since last April after its diplomats were allowed to leave under the swap agreement.

The cabinet has yet to make a decision on closing the embassy.

“There’s no turning back the clock on relations with North Korea, not after the Kim Jong Nam incident and the near impossibility of having any positive relationship with the country under such severe sanctions,” said Shahriman Lockman, a senior analyst with the Institute of Strategic and International Studies.

“I think the sense is that North Korea took advantage of Malaysia’s goodwill and relative openness,” he said.

TRADE HALTED

North Korea benefited from its Malaysian ties — Pyongyang exported everything from coal and medical devices to crabs, cloth hangers and fire extinguishers to Malaysia. Imports, however, came to a grinding halt last year.

Malaysia was also host to hundreds of North Korean workers, who were sent back after the airport killing.

A Reuters report showed how North Korea’s spy agency, the Reconnaissance Bureau, was running an arms operation out of Kuala Lumpur.

The frayed ties have affected Malaysian businesses that used to trade with the isolated country.

“We have been doing business with North Korea for 10 years,” said the Malaysian coal trader who declined to be identified.

“Suddenly it became a big issue because of the murder,” said the trader, adding he was questioned by the police and the foreign ministry over a March purchase.

It’s a sharp contrast from 10 years ago when it was easy for Malaysian businessmen to engage with Pyongyang, he said.

“I met the (North Korean) trade attaché and he arranged a shipment for me. That’s how I started,” he said.

The rocky relationship also remains in the spotlight with the continuing trial of the two women, Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam, in a Kuala Lumpur court on charges of murdering Kim Jong Nam.

The prosecution has built its case on airport video recordings of the killing and VX residue found on the women.

Defense lawyers say the prosecution has not put forward a motive for the killing and argue the two women were merely unwitting pawns in the attack.

The prosecution is not expected to finish presenting evidence until next month.

The women face the death penalty if convicted.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Bill Tarrant)