U.S. officials say Russian inaction enabled Syria chemical attack

A civil defence member breathes through an oxygen mask, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017.

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Trump administration officials on Sunday blamed Russian inaction for enabling a deadly poison gas attack against Syrian civilians last week as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prepared to explain to Moscow a U.S. retaliatory missile strike.

Tillerson said Syria was able to execute the attack, which killed scores of people, because Moscow had failed to carry out a 2013 agreement to secure and destroy chemical weapons in Syria.

White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Syria’s “sponsors,” Russia and Iran, were enabling President Bashar al-Assad’s “campaign of mass murder against his own civilians.”

But Tillerson, who is expected to visit Moscow on Wednesday for talks with Russian officials, said on ABC’s ‘This Week’ program there was “no change” to the U.S. military posture toward Syria.

“I think the real failure here has been Russia’s failure to live up to its commitments under the chemical weapons agreements that were entered into in 2013,” Tillerson said.

“The failure related to the recent strike and the recent terrible chemical weapons attack in large measure is a failure on Russia’s part to achieve its commitment to the international community,” he added.

U.S. President Donald Trump ordered cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base after he blamed Assad for the chemical attack, which killed at least 70 people, many of them children, in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun. The Syrian government has denied it was behind the attack.

Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” McMaster said the United States would take further action in Syria if necessary.

“We’re prepared to do more. In fact, we were prepared to do more two days ago,” McMaster said. “The president will make whatever decision he thinks is in the best interests of the American people.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani said in a phone call that aggressive U.S. actions against Syria were not permissible and violated international law, the Kremlin said.

McMaster said Russian leaders were supporting “a murderous regime” and their actions would dictate the future of U.S.-Russian relations.

“Do they want it to be a relationship of competition and potential conflict,” McMaster said. “Or do they want it to be a relationship in which we can find areas of cooperation that are in our mutual interest?”

Tillerson stopped short of accusing Russia of direct involvement in planning or carrying out the attack, saying he had not seen “any hard evidence” to suggest Moscow was an accomplice to Assad.

But he said the United States expected Russia to take a tougher stance by rethinking its alliance with Assad because “every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility.”

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and David Morgan; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Malaysian P.M says probe into airport killing will be fair

North Korean ambassador to Malaysia Kang Chol (C) leaves a morgue at Kuala Lumpur General Hospital where Kim Jong Nam's body is held for autopsy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

By Rozanna Latiff and Joseph Sipalan

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Monday his government’s investigation of the killing of the North Korean leader’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, will be “objective”, as tensions rose between the countries.

Earlier on Monday, Malaysia said it had recalled its envoy from Pyongyang and summoned North Korea’s ambassador in Kuala Lumpur, who again cast doubt on the impartiality of Malaysia’s investigation into the murder and said the victim was not Kim Jong Nam.

“We have no reason why we want to do something to paint North Korea in a bad light, but we will be objective,” Najib told reporters in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

The son of Kim Jong Nam, 22-year-old Kim Han Sol, was expected to arrive in the Malaysian capital from Macau late on Monday, according to an airline source and a media report.

Malaysian authorities have said they will release the body of the victim, believed to have been killed by North Korean agents, to the next of kin.

CCTV footage, released by Japanese broadcaster Fuji TV, appeared to show Kim Jong Nam being attacked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport last Monday by a woman believed to have wiped a fast-acting poison on his face.

Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the video, and police officials were not immediately available for comment.

Kim Jong Nam, 46, who had been living in the Chinese territory of Macau under Beijing’s protection, had spoken out publicly against his family’s dynastic control of isolated, nuclear-armed North Korea.

South Korean legislators last week cited their spy agency as saying the young and unpredictable North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, had issued a “standing order” for his half-brother’s assassination, and that there had been a failed attempt in 2012.


Malaysian police said they were hunting four North Koreans who fled from the country on the day of the attack, having already detained one North Korean man, a Vietnamese woman, an Indonesian woman, and a Malaysian man.

At least three of the wanted North Koreans caught an Emirates flight to Dubai from Jakarta late on the day of the attack, an immigration official in Indonesia told Reuters.

Malaysia’s Star newspaper reported that all four had returned to North Korea.

North Korea had sought to prevent Malaysia from conducting an autopsy, insisting the body be handed over. Its envoy in Kuala Lumpur criticized Malaysian authorities for “delaying” the release of the body.

“At the moment we cannot trust the investigation by the Malaysian police,” ambassador Kang Chol told reporters after talks at the foreign ministry.

He said the embassy had only identified the victim as Kim Chol, based on the passport found on the dead man, and suggested a joint investigation with Malaysian authorities. Kim Jong Nam had been caught using fake travel documents in the past.

Malaysia’s foreign ministry said it had recalled its ambassador to North Korea “for consultations”, and said investigations were being carried out in compliance with the law.

“Any suggestion to the contrary is deeply insulting to Malaysia, as is the suggestion that Malaysia is in collusion with any foreign government,” Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said in a statement.

Malaysia’s health minister said autopsy results could be released by Wednesday.

Malaysia is one of the few countries that maintains ties with reclusive North Korea, and the dispute could further isolate the impoverished state.


South Korea, acutely sensitive to events in its volatile neighbor, convened a meeting of its National Security Council.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn told the meeting that it was nearly certain that North Korea was behind the killing.

“The murder carried out in public at an international airport of a third country is an unforgivable and inhumane criminal act and clearly demonstrates the recklessness and brutality of the North Korean regime that will spare no avenues when it comes to perpetuating itself,” Hwang said.

“The North Korean regime’s terrorism tactics are getting bolder so we must be more vigilant.”

South Korean and U.S. officials had earlier said the killing was probably carried out by North Korean agents.

Grainy CCTV images showed Kim, wearing a light-colored jacket and trousers and with a backpack on one shoulder, heading for an automatic check-in counter in the airport departure hall.

A woman approached Kim from behind on the left and another – identified by Fuji as the Vietnamese woman, wearing a white shirt – walks rapidly up behind him from his right, before what appears to be a scuffle takes place.

In footage taken from another angle, the woman in the white shirt appears to lunge from behind and throw something over his head, locking her arms around him briefly.

As the woman in white quickly walks away, the second woman also moves off rapidly in another direction.

Later footage shows the portly, balding middle-aged man stumbling, wiping his face, and seeking help from people while gesturing to his eyes before being escorted to a clinic.

The mother of the detained Indonesian woman told Reuters that her daughter, Siti Aishah, had been duped into believing she was part of a television show or advertisement.

According to Malaysian media, the Vietnamese suspect, Doan Thi Huong, told police she had been tricked into taking part in what she thought was a practical joke.

There is speculation that China’s patience with North Korea could be tested by the killing, because Kim Jong Nam had been living in Macau, where he was headed when he was attacked.

China said on Saturday it had suspended all coal imports from the North, a vital source of revenue.

China is seen to be irritated by the North’s repeated aggression, including two nuclear tests since early 2016 and a Feb. 12 intermediate-range ballistic missile launch, the latest in a series of missile tests.

(Additional reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul and Elaine Lies in TOKYO; Writing by Praveen Menon and Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel and Mike Collett-White)

Malaysia arrests North Korean man as row over Kim Jong Nam’s death escalates

police officer looks at hospital staff

By Emily Chow and Liz Lee

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian police said on Saturday they had arrested a North Korean man in connection with the murder of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as a diplomatic spat over his body escalated.

Kim Jong Nam died this week after being assaulted at Kuala Lumpur International Airport with what was thought to be a fast-acting poison. South Korean and U.S. officials have said he was assassinated by North Korean agents.

Malaysian police said the latest arrest connected with the murder was made on Friday night, and the suspect was identified as Ri Jong Chol, born on May 6, 1970. He was in possession of a Malaysian i-Kad, which is an identification card given to foreign workers, they added.

“He is suspected to be involved in the death of a North Korean male,” read a statement.

The police chief for Selangor state, Abdul Samah Mat, said the suspect had been remanded in police custody.

Two female suspects, one an Indonesian and the other carrying Vietnamese travel documents, have already been arrested, while a Malaysian man has been detained. At least three more suspects are at large, government sources have said.

Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, had spoken out publicly against his family’s dynastic control of isolated, nuclear-armed North Korea.

South Korea’s intelligence agency told lawmakers in Seoul that Kim had been living with his second wife in the Chinese territory of Macau, under China’s protection.

He had been at the Kuala Lumpur airport to catch a flight to Macau when he was killed. An autopsy is being performed at a hospital in the capital city.

Selangor state police chief Abdul Samah told Reuters that the autopsy report was not complete yet. He dismissed media reports that a second autopsy would have to be conducted.


North Korea said in the early hours of Saturday that it would categorically reject Malaysia’s autopsy report on the death of Kim Jong Nam, and accused Malaysia of “colluding with outside forces”, in a veiled reference to rival nation South Korea.

Malaysia hit back by saying the country’s rules must be followed. The foreign ministry has yet to make any comment.

Health minister Dr S.Subramaniam told state news agency Bernama that Malaysia was waiting for the toxicology report to complete the autopsy.

He said the autopsy report would hopefully be released “within this week”.

The case threatens to weaken North Korea’s ties with Malaysia, one of the few countries that has maintained good diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

North Korea’s nuclear arms and weapons programs have alarmed the West, most recently its test of a ballistic missile earlier this month in its first direct challenge to the international community since Donald Trump became U.S. president.

Pyongyang’s main ally and trading partner is China, which is irritated by its repeated aggressive actions but rejects suggestions from the United States and others that it could be doing more to rein in its neighbor.

On Saturday, China said it had further tightened trade restrictions with North Korea by suspending all imports of coal starting Feb. 19, although it did not say why. Coal exports to China are a vital source of revenues for Pyongyang.


Kim Jong Nam was assaulted at the low cost terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Monday with what is believed to be fast acting poison before he could board a flight to Macau. He sought help but died on the way to the hospital.

North Korea demanded on Friday night that Kim Jong Nam’s body be released immediately. It had earlier tried to persuade Malaysian authorities not to carry out an autopsy.

“The Malaysian side forced the post-mortem without our permission and witnessing,” the North Korean ambassador Kang Chol told reporters outside the hospital where the body of Kim Jong Nam is being kept.

“We will categorically reject the result of the post mortem … ”

He said Kim Jong Nam had a diplomatic passport and was under the consular protection of North Korea.

(Additional reporting by Meng Meng and David Stanway in Beijing; Writing by Praveen Menon and A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Michael Perry and Mike Collett-White)

North Korean leader’s half brother killed in Malaysia: source

North Korean half brother to Kim Jong Un

By Ju-min Park and Joseph Sipalan

SEOUL/KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – The estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been killed in Malaysia, a South Korean government source told Reuters on Tuesday.

Kim Jong Nam, the older half brother of the North Korean leader, was known to spend a significant amount of his time outside the country and had spoken out publicly against his family’s dynastic control of the isolated state.

He was believed to be in his mid-40s.

Police in Malaysia told Reuters on Tuesday an unidentified North Korean man had died en route to hospital from Kuala Lumpur airport on Monday. Abdul Aziz Ali, police chief for the Sepang district, said the man’s identity had not been verified.

An employee in the emergency ward of Putrajaya hospital said a deceased Korean there was born in 1970 and surnamed Kim.

South Korea’s TV Chosun, a cable television network, said that Kim was poisoned at Kuala Lumpur airport by two women believed to be North Korean operatives, who were at large, citing multiple South Korean government sources.

The South Korean government source who spoke to Reuters did not immediately provide further details.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said it could not confirm the reports, and the country’s intelligence agency could not immediately be reached for comment.

Kim Jong Nam and Kim Jong Un are both sons of former leader Kim Jong Il, who died in late 2011, but they had different mothers.

Kim Jong Nam was believed to be close to his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who was North Korea’s second most powerful man before being executed on Kim Jong Un’s orders in 2013.

In 2001, Kim Jong Nam was caught at an airport in Japan traveling on a fake passport, saying he had wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland. He was known to travel to Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China.

He said several times over the years that he had no interest in leading his country.

“Personally I am against third-generation succession,” he told Japan’s Asahi TV in 2010, before his younger had succeeded their father.

“I hope my younger brother will do his best for the sake of North Koreans’ prosperous lives.”

(Reporting by Ju-min Park and Se Young Lee in SEOUL and Joseph Sipalan And Emily Chow in KUALA LUMPUR; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Abbas says some Israeli rabbis called for poisoning Palestinian water

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accuses rabbis of poisoning the water

By Robin Emmott and Dan Williams

BRUSSELS/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday accused Israeli rabbis of calling for the poisoning of Palestinian water, in what appeared to be an invocation of a widely debunked media report that recalled a medieval anti-Semitic libel.

Abbas’s remarks, in a speech to the European parliament, did not appear on the official transcript issued by his office, suggesting he may have spoken off the cuff as he condemned Israeli actions against Palestinians amid stalled peace talks.

“Only a week ago, a number of rabbis in Israel announced, and made a clear announcement, demanding that their government poison the water to kill the Palestinians,” Abbas said.

“Isn’t that clear incitement to commit mass killings against the Palestinian people?”

Israeli officials did not immediately respond to the remarks, which were made as Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, made a parallel visit to Brussels.

Rivlin’s office said Abbas had turned down a European proposal that the two meet there. A spokesman for Abbas said any such meeting would require more preparation.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.

Abbas, who received a standing ovation from EU lawmakers after his speech, gave no source for his information — and there has been no evidence over the past week of any call by Israeli rabbis to poison Palestinian water.


Reports of an alleged rabbinical edict emerged on Sunday, when the Turkish state news agency Anadolu said that a “Rabbi Shlomo Mlma, chairman of the Council of Rabbis in the West Bank settlements”, had issued an advisory to allow Jewish settlers to take such action.

The same day, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, on its website, cited what it said was a water-poisoning call from a “Rabbi Mlmad” and demanded his arrest.

Reuters and other news outlets in Israel could not locate any rabbi named Shlomo Mlma or Mlmad, and there is no listed organization called the Council of Rabbis in the West Bank.

Gulf News, in a report on Sunday, said a number of rabbis had issued the purported advisory. It attributed the allegation to Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization of veteran soldiers critical of the military’s treatment of Palestinians.

A spokesman for Breaking the Silence told Reuters the group had not provided any such information.

For Jews, allegations of water poisoning strike a bitter chord. In the 14th century, as plague swept across Europe, false accusations that Jews were responsible for the disease by deliberately poisoning wells led to massacres of Jewish communities.

(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta; editing by Ralph Boulton)


Flint water system improving, but still unstable

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder drinks some water as he testifies for Flint Michigan water hearing on Capitol in Washington

DETROIT (Reuters) – The drinking water in Flint, Michigan, where high lead levels led to a health crisis that drew national attention, is improving, but remains unstable, a top environmental official said Friday.

“The drinking water system is recovering,” Robert Kaplan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s acting administrator for the region that includes Flint, told local and state officials meeting in the city to discuss the crisis.

“You’ve got a dramatic decrease in the soluble lead. What we’re seeing though is particulate lead, which indicates that the system is unstable,” he told the meeting by phone.

Under the direction of a state-appointed emergency manager, Flint switched water supplies to the Flint River from Detroit’s system in 2014 to save money. The state has been criticized for its initial poor handling of the issue.

The corrosive river water leached lead, a toxic substance that can damage the nervous system, from the city’s water pipes. Flint switched back to the Detroit system last October.

“Whenever we see a positive trend in Flint’s water quality, that’s good news, but we still have much work to do to get people the quality of water they need and deserve,” Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said in a statement on Friday.

Kaplan said while the addition of chemical phosphates to recoat the pipes to inhibit corrosion is working, the almost invisible lead particles remain a random and unpredictable problem.

Kaplan said water filters reliably deal with the lead, but the best approach would be for residents to vigorously flush their home water systems by turning on all faucets and spigots and running the water to clean the sediment out and rebuild the protective phosphate coating.

He said local and state officials need to have a simple message for residents in the city of 100,000 people to take that approach.

“If we don’t have an extremely simple message, as in free water, you will not be charged for the water that you use that is related to this flushing, I’m afraid we’re not able to get that lead washed out of the system,” he said.

The state previously approved $30 million to help Flint residents pay their water bills dating back to when the switch to the Flint River was made.

Kaplan said a full recovery of Flint’s water system will take time, adding experts would not provide a time table at this point.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing by Alistair Bell)