Soldier kills 29 people in Thailand before being shot

By Panu Wongcha-um and Patpicha Tanakasempipat

NAKHON RATCHASIMA, Thailand (Reuters) – A soldier angry over a property deal gone sour killed at least 29 people and wounded 57 in a rampage that spanned four locations in and around the northeastern Thai city of Nakhon Ratchasima before he was shot dead early Sunday.

Most of the victims were at the city’s Terminal 21 shopping center, where the shooter held out against an overnight siege with an assault rifle and ammunition stolen from his army base.

An image of a suspect on a wanted poster, after a shooting rampage in the city of Nakhon Ratchasima, in a document released by the Thai Crime Suppression Bureau in Thailand February 08, 2020. THAI CRIME SUPPRESSION BUREAU/Handout via REUTERS.

Police named him as 32-year-old soldier Jakrapanth Thomma. He initially posted written messages on Facebook during the attack before his account was shut down by the company.

“It was a personal conflict…over a house deal,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters on Sunday from Nakhon Ratchasima after traveling there to meet wounded survivors.

Prayuth added that the conflict was with a relative of the soldier’s commanding officer.

Thailand’s worst mass shooting prompted soul searching in the southeast Asian country of 69 million, where the army has long styled itself as the protector of the nation and dominated politics for decades either overtly or from behind the scenes.

Prayuth, a former military ruler, came in for criticism over his handling of the incident after he waved and smiled during a visit to the scene and made a heart gesture with his fingers. The hashtag #RIPPrayuth was trending on Thai social media.

“If you have a heart like kind Thais, you should respect relatives of the deceased with a calm and mournful manner,” commented Jirayu Houngsub, an opposition member of parliament.

At a morgue in Nakhon Ratchasima, the family of 13-year-old Ratchanon Karnchanamethee sobbed as they identified his body.

“He’s my only son. He hasn’t even had dinner,” said his father, Natthawut Karnchanamethee. “I allowed him to do anything he wanted to. I never set expectations for him. I only wanted him to be a good person.”

Led by police and soldiers, hundreds of shoppers fled the mall during the 12-hour standoff. Crouching low, they escaped in small groups, dazed and exhausted. At one point, armed forces emerged at a run carrying small children.

“It was frightening because I could hear the occasional gunshot…we waited a long time for the police to come and help us, many hours,” said Suvanarat Jirattanasakul, 27, her voice trembling.

Another survivor told local Amarin TV that the shooter was “aiming for the heads” and said his colleague died on the scene.

“He was shooting everywhere and his shots were very precise,” said the man, identified as “Diaw”.

The province’s governor, Wichien Chantaranochai, on Sunday night said a total of 29 people had been killed and 57 were wounded.

Also known by the historical name Korat, Nakhon Ratchasima has a population of about 250,000. It is close to a national park popular for its wild elephants but the relatively poor northeastern region is one of the less visited areas for Thailand’s tens of millions of tourists.

STOLEN ARSENAL

CCTV footage from inside the mall posted on social media showed the gunman dressed in black and wearing a mask, his gun slung over his shoulder with no sign of other people around.

According to local media, Jakrapanth worked at an army base close to Nakhon Ratchasima, which is about 250 km (155 miles) from the capital Bangkok.

He was a sharp shooter and took many special courses on carrying out attacks, including planning ambushes, army sources said. Thai media reported he often posted photos of weapons on social media.

The killings began at around 3 p.m. (0800 GMT) on Saturday when the soldier opened fire in a house before moving to an army camp and then driving to the mall in a stolen Humvee.

The soldier’s commanding officer was one of the people reported killed before the soldier moved on to the shopping mall and began shooting.

At some point during the day, the soldier raided the army camp’s weapons storage to arm himself, said Lt. General Thanya Kiatsarn, Commander of the Second Area Command.

“He attacked the guard to the weapon arsenal, who later died, and he stole an official jeep and an HK33 gun and an amount of ammunition to do what he did,” Thanya said.

‘SPEND THE MONEY IN HELL’

Hours before he began shooting on Saturday, Jakrapanth had posted on his Facebook account denouncing greedy people.

“Rich from cheating. Taking advantage of other people. Do they think they can spend the money in hell?” read one post in Thai.

He later posted written updates during the attack.

“Death is inevitable for everyone,” he wrote. Later, he complained about his fingers cramping and asked “Should I give up?” before the account was no longer available.

Hours after the mall siege began, Facebook <FB.O> said it had removed the suspect’s account.

“There is no place on Facebook for people who commit this kind of atrocity, nor do we allow people to praise or support this attack,” a Facebook representative said in a statement.

Major shootings are rare in Thailand other than in the far south, where a decades-old insurgency persists.

(Additional reporting by Athit Perawongmetha, Jiraporn Kuhakan, Prapan Chankaew and Patpicha Tanakasempipat in Nakhon Ratchasima; Panarat Thepgumpanat, Orathai Sriring and Juarawee Kittisilpa in Bangkok; Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by David Gregorio, Simon Cameron-Moore, Jacqueline Wong, Alex Richardson and Philippa Fletcher)

Long road ahead to a new life for wounded North Korean defector

Long road ahead to a new life for wounded North Korean defector

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – The North Korean soldier critically wounded when making a dash to the south last month may have cheated death, but even as his health improves, he is months if not years away from finding a normal life in South Korea, officials and other defectors say.

The transition to life in the democratic and prosperous South can be difficult for any defector from the isolated and impoverished North, let alone for a soldier from an elite border unit with potentially actionable military intelligence and a high profile that may complicate efforts to blend in.

The 24-year-old soldier, identified only by his surname Oh, has been released from intensive care after being shot five times during his daring defection, but is still battling a hepatitis B infection which could delay his transfer to a military hospital for some time, doctors said.

“As active duty soldier defectors have up-to-date information, the intelligence agencies would question the soldiers and see if anything needs to be addressed in our military’s operation and combat plans,” a current South Korean government official involved in resettling North Korean refugees told Reuters.

Oh will likely be under the protection of South Korea’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Service (NIS), and then be offered work such as code cracking in the military or related agencies, a former senior South Korean government official said.

“The decision would be made after a comprehensive assessment on what he means to national security, the level of information he has, and whether he would be capable of mingling with other defectors at the resettlement center,” the former official said.

A SPECIAL CASE

Defections by active-duty soldiers are extremely rare, once a year or less. Intelligence agencies are keen to question Oh, who was stationed in the Joint Security Area near the heavily fortified border, according to South Korean lawmakers briefed by the NIS.

Doctors have asked that officials wait until Oh is fully recovered both physically and emotionally before they begin questioning.

Given his high-profile escape and status as a member from an elite border unit, Oh will likely be given more personalized assistance, away from other North Korean defectors at the Hanawon resettlement center, the former South Korean official said.

Most defectors undergo security questioning by the National Intelligence Service for a few days up to several months in extreme cases, before being moved to the Hanawon resettlement center.

There they receive mandatory three-month education on life in the capitalist South, from taking public transportation to opening a bank account to creating an email address.

“It’s where you would get to see the outside world for the first time, as they take you out to meet people on the streets and learn how to access the social service network. These days, you can also do a homestay with an ordinary South Korean family,” said Ji Seong-ho, a 35-year-old defector who heads Now, Action and Unity for Human Rights (NAUH), a group that rescues and resettles North Korean refugees.

‘LIKE A BABY’

Such training can be more useful for some people than others, said Kim Jin-soo, a 29-year-old former member of the North Korean secret police who defected to the South in 2011.

“Looking back, it would’ve been really useful if they taught more realistic things even though it might discourage people, like how to prepare for a job fair and find a suitable workplace and why it’s important to lose the North Korean accent,” he said.

“Fresh off Hanawon, you’re like a one-year-old baby. But those are the things that would pose a real obstacle when you actually go out there on your own,” said Kim, who now works at a advertising firm in Seoul.

After leaving Hanawon, central and local governments provide defectors 7 million won ($6,450) in cash over a year – barely a fifth of South Korea’s annual average income – as well as support in housing, education and job training. Police officers are assigned to each of the defectors to ensure their security.

Oh may have potential value to the South Korean government or organizations that try to highlight conditions in North Korea, but it will be up to him whether he wants to live a life in the limelight, said Sokeel Park, country director for Liberty in North Korea, which helps North Korean refugees.

“If he has any mind to get involved in that kind of stuff then there will be all kinds of media or non-governmental organizations who would fall over themselves to give him that platform,” said Park.

“But if he makes a good recovery and he chooses to blend it, then he’s just another young guy with a vague back story.”

GRAPHIC: Defector braves hail of bullets http://reut.rs/2zAUDRN

(Writing and additional reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

Escape from North Korea: video shows defector under fire

Escape from North Korea: video shows defector under fire

By Haejin Choi and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – A North Korean border guard briefly crossed the border with the South in the chase for a defector last week – a violation of the ceasefire accord between North and South, a video released on Wednesday by the U.N. Command (UNC) in Seoul showed.

The North Koreans were only steps behind the young man when they shot him at least four times as he made his escape on Nov. 13. The video, filmed as the defector drove an army truck through the demilitarized zone and then abandoned the vehicle, gives a dramatic insight into his escape.

The defector, identified by a surgeon as a 24-year-old with the family name Oh, was flown by a U.S. military helicopter to a hospital in Suwon, south of Seoul. Doctors said he had regained consciousness, having had two operations to extract the bullets, and his breathing was stable and unassisted.

“He is fine,” lead surgeon Lee Cook-Jong said at a news conference in Suwon. “He is not going to die.”

A UNC official said North Korea had been informed on Wednesday that it had violated the 1953 armistice agreement, which marked the cessation of hostilities in the Korean War.

The UNC official told a news conference that a soldier from the North Korean People’s Army (KPA) had crossed the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), the border between the two Koreas, for a few seconds as others fired shots at the defecting soldier.

“The key findings of the special investigation team are that the KPA violated the armistice agreement by one, firing weapons across the MDL, and two, by actually crossing the MDL temporarily,” Chad Carroll, Director of Public Affairs for the UNC, told reporters.

The incident comes at a time of heightened tensions between North Korea and the international community over its nuclear weapons program, but Pyongyang has not publicly responded to the defection.

The video, released by the UNC, was produced from surveillance cameras on the southern side of the the Joint Security Area (JSA) inside the demilitarized zone. When tree cover is too dense to see the wounded defector crawling across the border, it switches to infra-red.

DESPERATE ESCAPE

The film begins with a lone dark green army jeep speeding along empty, tree-lined roads toward the border.

At one checkpoint, a North Korean guard marches impassively toward the approaching vehicle. It races by. He runs in pursuit.

After passing a memorial to North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, where tourists often gather, the jeep runs into a ditch just meters from the border, which is not clearly marked.

For several minutes the driver tries to free the vehicle, but the wheels spin uselessly in fallen leaves.

The driver abandons the vehicle and sprints away, pushing tree branches out of his way and sending leaves flying.

He scrambles up a slope to cross just seconds before more guards appear, shooting as they run.

One slides into a pile of dead leaves to open fire before running forward and appearing to briefly cross the dividing line between the two countries. He quickly turns on his heel.

The video does not show the moment the defector is hit, but he is seen lying in a pile of brush next to a concrete wall in a later edited clip.

The UNC’s Carroll said the position was still exposed to North Korean checkpoints across the border.

Allied troops operating the cameras had by then notified their commanders and a quick reaction force had assembled on the South Korean side, according to Carroll. The video does not show this force.

Infrared imagery shows two South Korean soldiers crawling through undergrowth to drag the wounded North Korean to safety, while the deputy commander of the border security unit oversees the rescue from a few meters away.

LONG RECOVERY

Doctors have conducted a series of surgeries to remove four bullets from the critically wounded soldier, who arrived at the hospital having lost a large amount of blood.

“From a medical point of view he was almost dead when he was first brought here,” said the surgeon, Lee.

Hospital officials said the man remains in intensive care.

The soldier showed signs of depression and possible trauma, in addition to a serious case of parasites that has complicated his treatment, the hospital said in a statement. Lee said last week one of the flesh-colored parasites he removed from the soldier’s digestive tract was 27 cm (10.6 in) long.

Continuing stress made the soldier hesitant to talk, but he had been cooperative, doctors said.

The patient first recovered consciousness on Sunday, and asked where he was in South Korea, Lee said. He was in “agony” when he came to, the surgeon added.

Since then doctors have played South Korean pop music for him, and American action movies including “The Transporter” from 2002.

On average more than 1,000 North Koreans defect to the South every year, but most travel via China and numbers have fallen since Kim Jong Un came to power in 2011. It is unusual for a North Korean to cross the land border dividing the two Koreas. They have been in a technical state of war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The last time a North Korean soldier had defected across the JSA was in 2007.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Christine Kim, and James Pearson; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Sara Ledwith)

North Korea defector ‘stabilized’ after second surgery: South Korean surgeon

North Korea defector 'stabilized' after second surgery: South Korean surgeon

By Christine Kim and Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – A North Korean soldier who suffered critical gunshot wounds during a defection dash over the border to South Korea this week stabilized on Wednesday after a second round of surgery, a doctor treating him said.

The soldier, whose rank and identity have not been disclosed, was flown by helicopter to hospital on Monday after his escape to South Korea in a hail of bullets fired by North Korean soldiers.

Wednesday’s surgery was “successful” in terms of staunching bleeding and the soldier had “stabilized much”, said Lee Cook-jong, the surgeon in charge of his treatment.

However, he remained unconscious and was not out of the woods, as complications from a severe hip fracture and possible infection remained major concerns, Lee said.

“We will be able to tell you after about 10 days,” Lee told reporters at a briefing, when asked about the soldier’s chances of surviving.

On Tuesday, government and military officials said the soldier was in critical condition but doctors expected him to live.

The soldier made his escape in a border “peace village” on the heavily guarded demilitarized zone between the two Koreas.

At first, he sped toward the border in a four-wheel drive vehicle but was forced to abandon it and flee on foot when one of its wheels came loose, South Korean officials said earlier.

He was hit by about seven bullets before he took cover behind a South Korean structure in a Joint Security Area (JSA) inside the demilitarized zone.

Doctors removed five bullets from him earlier and one more on Wednesday.

North Korea has remained silent on the issue, while no unusual activity has been detected at the border where the soldier defected, the South’s Unification Ministry said.

“There will need to be some questioning on why he defected after his treatment is over,” ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told a regular briefing.

Monday was the first time since 2007 a North Korean soldier had defected across the JSA.

(Reporting by Christine Kim and Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Yuna Park; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

Defecting North Korean soldier critical after escape in hail of bullets

Defecting North Korean soldier critical after escape in hail of bullets

By Christine Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – A North Korean soldier is expected to survive critical wounds he received when his old comrades fired a hail of bullets at him as he made a defection dash to South Korea, the South’s government and military said on Tuesday.

The soldier had on Monday sped toward the border in a “peace village” in the heavily guarded demilitarized zone, in a four-wheel drive vehicle.

But when a wheel came loose, he fled on foot as four North Korean soldiers fired about 40 rounds at him, said Suh Wook, chief director of operations at South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefing lawmakers.

“Until this morning, we heard he had no consciousness and was unable to breathe on his own but his life can be saved,” Suh said.

Surgeons had removed five bullets from the soldier’s body, leaving two inside, Suh added, to murmurs from lawmakers who said the soldier’s escape was “right out of a movie”.

The soldier took cover behind a South Korean structure in a Joint Security Area (JSA) inside the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas.

South Korean and U.S. soldiers, fearing more North Korean fire, later crawled to him to rescue him, the United Nations Command said in a separate statement.

North Korea has not said anything about the soldier. Its military had not given any indication of unusual movements on Tuesday, the South’s military said.

While on average more than 1,000 North Koreans defect to the South every year, most travel via China and it is unusual for a North Korean to cross the land border dividing the two Koreas, which have been in a technical state of war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The U.N. Command, in place since the end of the war, said an investigation into the incident was being conducted.

South Korean Defence Minister Song Young-moo said it was the first time North Korean soldiers had fired toward the South’s side of the JSA, prompting complaints from some lawmakers that the South’s military should have returned fire.

Moon Sang-gyun, the South’s defense ministry spokesman, said military operations at the JSA were usually conducted under the orders of the U.N. Command, which is in turn under orders from the U.S. military.

INTESTINAL DAMAGE

The soldier, who was not armed, was flown in a U.N. Command helicopter to an operating theater where doctors began working to save him even before he was out of a uniform that indicated he held a lower rank, Suh said.

South Korean officials have yet to identify where the soldier came from or what his intentions were.

Lee Cook-jong, the surgeon in charge of the soldier’s care at the Ajou University Hospital, told reporters he was suffering from critical intestinal damage.

Hospital officials where under strict security agency orders not to talk to media and all updates on the soldier had to be through the military, workers there told Reuters.

Dr Lee had been “given a talking-to” after a brief exchange with the media, the hospital workers said.

The U.N. military armistice commission said it had informed the North Korean military that the soldier, who was found about 50 meters (150 feet) south of a Military Demarcation Line, was undergoing surgery for his wounds.

Suh said the South had also informed the North on Monday of the soldier and his treatment, via loudspeakers on the border.

North Korea has in the past complained that North Korean defectors had been abducted by South Korea, and it has demanded their release.

This month, the North demanded that South Korea return 12 waitresses it said had been kidnapped while working in China in 2016. South Korea said the 12 women, and one man, had chosen to defect to the South.

Monday was the first time since 2007 a North Korean soldier had defected across the JSA.

(Reporting by Christine Kim; Additional reporting by Cynthia Kim, Yuna Park and Heekyong Yang; Editing by Michael Perry and Robert Birsel)

Car rams into soldiers in Paris suburb in suspected terrorist attack

Armed soldiers secure the scene where French soliders were hit and injured by a vehicle in the western Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret, France, August 9, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

By Benoit Tessier and Richard Lough

PARIS (Reuters) – A car rammed into a group of soldiers in a Parisian suburb on Wednesday, injuring six before speeding off in what officials identified as a suspected terrorist attack.

The vehicle, a BMW, was parked in an alley before it accelerated into the soldiers as they left their barracks to go on patrol, said Patrick Balkany, mayor of Levallois-Perret.

“The vehicle did not stop. It hurtled at them … it accelerated rapidly,” he told broadcaster BFM TV.

Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said the driver was on the run and being sought, and an investigation was under way to determine “the motives and circumstances” for what she called a “cowardly act”.

A justice ministry official said counter-terrorism investigators had been assigned to the case.

The incident follows a string of Islamist-inspired attacks on soldiers and police, who have been deployed in large numbers nationwide after calls by militant group Islamic State for attacks on France and other countries bombing its strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

The soldiers hit on Wednesday were rushed to hospital and police said two of the six were seriously injured.

SCRAPING METAL

Balkany said that what he called a “disgusting” act of aggression was “without any doubt” premeditated.

Jean-Claude Veillant, resident of an apartment building directly above the scene, witnessed part of the attack.

“I heard a loud noise, the sound of scraping metal. Shortly after, I saw one of the badly wounded lying in front of the Vigipirate (army patrol) vehicle and another one behind it receiving treatment,” he told reporters.

France remains on maximum alert following a string of attacks over the past two years in which Islamist militants or Islamist-inspired attackers have killed more than 230 people.

Most were civilians killed in Paris in early and late 2015 as well as in the southern seaside city of Nice in mid-2016, Since then a string of attacks have primarily targeted police and soldiers.

This year, assailants attacked soldiers at the Louvre museum site in Paris in February and at Orly airport in March. An assailant shot a policeman dead on the Champs Elysees avenue in the capital in April. Another man died after ramming his car into a police van in June and soldiers disarmed a knife-wielding man at the Eiffel Tower earlier this month.

The car in Wednesday’s attack, which police said was dark-colored and probably a BMW, was parked near the edge of the Place de Verdun square in the center of Levallois-Perret, a relatively affluent suburb on the western edge of Paris.

The area, quieter than normal in peak summer holiday season, was cordoned off after the incident, which happened at around 8:00 a.m., police said.

Levallois-Perret is about 5 km (3 miles) from city center landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and the Elysee Presidential Palace.

(Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Caroline Paillez, Brian Love and Johnny Coton; Writing by Brian Love; editing by John Stonestreet)

Georgian soldier killed in Afghanistan convoy attack: coalition

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Georgian soldier from the NATO-led Resolute Support mission was killed and six personnel were wounded in Afghanistan on Thursday after a suicide bomber attacked their convoy in Kabul province, a coalition statement said.

In addition, two Afghan civilians were killed and seven wounded in the attack.

The wounded service personnel, three Georgians, two Americans and a local interpreter, were being treated at a U.S. military hospital at Bagram airfield and were in stable condition, the statement said.

The incident occurred in Qarabagh district outside the capital, Kabul.

The coalition maintains nearly 13,000 troops from 39 countries, as part of a mission to train, advise and assist Afghan troops. Georgia is not a member of NATO, but has 870 troops serving in Afghanistan, one of the largest contingents in the coalition.

“The commitment of Georgia as our largest non-NATO contributor is vital to our mission and we are honored to stand beside them under these difficult circumstances,” said the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson.

A suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan killed two American troops on Wednesday as they traveled in a convoy near the airport in southern Kandahar city, the U.S. military said, in a strike claimed by the Taliban insurgency.

The attack was seen as a reminder of the dangers posed to the 8,400 U.S. service members in Afghanistan as President Donald Trump weighs sending thousands more troops to fight America’s longest war.

U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan have asked for several thousand additional troops, but the request is stalled in Washington, where Trump has expressed skepticism over extending the American commitment.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and James Mackenzie; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Clarence Fernandez)

Lawyer for U.S. Army sergeant accused of terrorism suggests entrapment

A photograph with a redacted date, and entered into federal court as an exhibit to support the government's motion to keep U.S. Army Sergeant Ikaika Erik Kang in detention without bond, shows what is described as Kang holding the Islamic State Flag after pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. Kang is charged with trying to provide material support to Islamic State extremists. the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii/Handout via REUTERS

By Hunter Haskins

HONOLULU (Reuters) – The lawyer for a U.S. Army sergeant charged in Hawaii with trying to provide material support to Islamic State extremists said on Thursday his client suffers from mental illness that FBI agents exploited in a “sting” operation leading to his arrest.

Questions about Ikaika Erik Kang’s state of mind and the possibility of entrapment were raised by defense lawyer Birney Bervar in remarks to reporters after his client was ordered to remain in jail without bond.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth Mansfield in Honolulu ruled after a brief hearing that Kang, 34, posed a flight risk and a danger to the public if released pending further proceedings. The defense did not object to his continued incarceration.

Bervar said after the ruling he told his client: “You’re going to stay in for now, and we’re going to get you evaluated and see what’s going on.”

He said he believed Kang was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or some other mental problem that the Army failed to address properly after Kang returned from deployments to Iraq in 2011 and Afghanistan in 2014.

According to a Federal Bureau of Investigation affidavit, Kang was reprimanded several times dating back to 2011 for threatening fellow service members and expressing extremist views while on duty.

The Army referred the matter to the FBI in 2016.

Kang soon became the target of what the FBI described in its affidavit as an elaborate sting operation employing several undercover agents and other “confidential human sources” who posed as Islamic State operatives and sympathizers.

“It looks to me like they’ve exploited his mental illness and thrown gasoline on the fire of his mental illness to get him to commit a crime that they could arrest him for,” Bervar said.

Asked if he was suggesting a case of entrapment, Bervar said: “It sounds pretty close to that, doesn’t it?”

Bervar said he would seek a “full mental health evaluation” for his client.

The government, in support of its motion to keep Kang detained without bond, entered several photographs said to show Kang demonstrating military combat tactics.

Two other images purport to show him kissing and then holding to his forehead a folded flag of Islamic State, also known as ISIS, the militant organization that had seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. He is shown in a third photo holding up an unfurled ISIS flag.

Kang, an air traffic control specialist with extensive military training in hand-to-hand combat, was arrested by the FBI on Saturday following a year-long undercover investigation.

The FBI said he swore allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, made training videos for the extremist group and purchased a drone aircraft intended to help ISIS fighters in the Middle East evade enemy tanks in battle.

Kang is also accused of trying to furnish ISIS with classified and other sensitive military documents that would have assisted the group in its combat tactics.

(Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in LOS ANGELES; Editing by Paul Tait)

Abortive Brussels attack could have been much worse: PM

Belgian soldiers patrol inside Brussels central railway station after a suicide bomber was shot dead by troops in Brussels, Belgium, June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

By Philip Blenkinsop and Charlotte Steenackers

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A suitcase bomb packed with nails and gas bottles could have caused heavy casualties, Belgium’s prime minister said on Wednesday, a day after a soldier shot dead a Moroccan national attempting an attack on Brussels’ central station.

“We have avoided an attack that could have been a great deal worse,” Charles Michel told reporters after a national security council meeting following Tuesday evening’s incident, in which no one else was hurt.

However, no further threat was seen as imminent and the public alert level was left unchanged.

A counter-terrorism prosecutor named the dead man only by his initials, O.Z. He was a 36-year-old Moroccan citizen who lived in the Brussels borough of Molenbeek and had not been suspected of militant links. He set off his bomb on a crowded station concourse below ground at 8:44 p.m. (2.44 p.m. ET).

Walking up to a group of passengers, prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt said, “he grabbed his suitcase, while shouting and causing a partial explosion. Fortunately, nobody was hurt.”

The suitcase, later found to contain nails and gas bottles, caught fire and then exploded a second time more violently as the man ran downstairs to the platforms.

He then ran back up to the concourse where commuters had been milling around and rushed toward a soldier shouting “Allahu akbar” — God is greater, in Arabic. The soldier, part of a routine patrol, shot him several times. Bomb disposal experts checked the body and found he was not carrying more explosives.

Police raided the man’s home overnight, Van Der Sypt said.

Molenbeek, an impoverished borough with a big Moroccan Muslim population just across Brussels’ industrial canal from its historic center, gained notoriety after an Islamic State cell based there mounted suicide attacks on Paris in November 2015 that killed 130 people. Associates of that group attacked Brussels itself four months later, killing 32 people.

Belgian policemen get out of a house after searching it, following yesterday's attack, in Brussels, Belgium June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

Belgian policemen get out of a house after searching it, following yesterday’s attack, in Brussels, Belgium June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

“WE WILL NOT BE INTIMIDATED”

Prime Minister Michel insisted the country, which has been the most fertile European recruiting ground for Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, would not bow to threats that have seen combat troops become a permanent fixture at public spaces in Brussels.

“We will not let ourselves be intimidated,” Michel said. “We will go on living our lives as normal.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility and no word on how investigations are progressing into whether the man had acted alone or had help, and into any links to radical groups.

The Belgian capital, home to the headquarters of NATO and the European Union, took a heavy hit to its tourist industry last year. Visitors and residents out enjoying a hot summer’s evening on the ornate Renaissance town square, the Grand Place, close to Central Station were cleared quickly away by police.

Smoke billowed through the elegant 1930s marble hallways of the station, sending people fleeing to the surface, well aware of last year’s attacks at Brussels airport and on the metro, as well as of a string of Islamic State-inspired assaults in France, Germany, Sweden and Britain.

“Such isolated acts will continue in Brussels, in Paris and elsewhere. It’s inevitable,” Brussels security consultant Claude Moniquet, a former French agent, told broadcaster RTL.

With Islamic State under pressure in Syria, he said, attacks in Europe may increase, though many would be by “amateurs”.

Witness Nicolas Van Herrewegen, a rail worker, told Reuters: “He was talking about the jihadists and all that and then at some point he shouted: ‘Allahu akbar’ and blew up the little suitcase he had next to him. People just took off.”

Remy Bonnaffe, a 23-year-old lawyer who was waiting for a train home, photographed the flaming suitcase before the second blast, followed by gunfire, prompted him to run.

“I think we had some luck tonight,” he told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Clement Rossignol, Francesco Guarascio, Jan Strupczewski, Elizabeth Miles and Alastair Macdonald; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Angus MacSwan)