U.S. foreign chief Tillerson arrives in Gulf for talks on Qatar crisis

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson makes a speech during the opening ceremony of the 22nd World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul, Turkey, July 9,

By Jonathan Landay and Tom Finn

ISTANBUL/DOHA (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Kuwait on Monday for talks aimed at resolving the crisis triggered by the the cutoff of links with Qatar by Saudi Arabia and Arab allies allies.

In Doha, a Western diplomat said creation of a “terror finance monitoring mechanism” would feature in the talks, but declined to elaborate. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Egypt imposed sanctions last month, accusing Doha of aiding terrorism, something it denies.

The State Department said Tillerson, who forged extensive ties in the Gulf as CEO of ExxonMobil, would hold talks with leaders in Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

He was flying from Istanbul where he attended an international petroleum conference.

R.C. Hammond, a senior adviser to Tillerson, said he would explore ways to end a stalemate following Qatar’s rejection of 13 demands issued as condition for ending sanctions.

“The trips to Saudi Arabia and Qatar are about the art of the possible,” said Hammond, who added that the 13 demands “are done” and “are not worth revisiting as a package. Individually there are things in there that could work”.

The demands included the closing of Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based pan-Arab television network, and a Turkish military base in Qatar. Saudi Arabia and its backers, which accuse Al Jazeera of being a platform for extremists and an agent of interference in their affairs, have threatened further sanctions against the emirate. Al Jazeera denies the allegations.

Riyadh and its allies accuse Qatar of financing extremist groups and allying with Iran, the Gulf Arab states’ regional rival. Qatar denies that it supports militant organizations, and many experts see the blockade as an attempt by Saudi Arabia to rein in Qatar’s increasingly independent foreign policy.



The crisis has hit travel, food imports to Qatar, ratcheted up tensions in the Gulf and sown confusion among businesses, while pushing Qatar closer to Iran and Turkey which have offered support.

The United States worries the crisis could affect its military and counter-terrorism operations and increase the regional influence of Tehran, which has been supporting Qatar by allowing it to use air and sea links through its territory.

Qatar hosts Udeid Air Base, the largest U.S. military facility in the Middle East, from which U.S.-led coalition aircraft stage sorties against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed support for Saudi Arabia in the dispute.

Hammond said it was critical that not only Qatar, but Riyadh and its allies take steps to halt any financial support flowing to extremists groups, especially following the defeat of Islamic State in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

“It’s a two-way street,” he said. “There are no clean hands here.”

“We want progress on terrorism financing. The president strongly believes that if you cut off financing, you cut off the ability of terror to take hold in new areas,” Hammond said.

Moreover, he said, “the longer that this struggle is in place, the more opportunity there is for Iran.”


(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)


Truck plows into crowd at Berlin Christmas market, nine dead

Police and emergency workers stand next to a crashed truck at the site of an accident at a Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz square near the fashionable Kurfuerstendamm avenue in the west of Berlin, Germany, December 19, 2016.

By Michael Nienaber

BERLIN (Reuters) – A truck plowed into a crowded Christmas market in the German capital Berlin on Monday evening, killing nine people and injuring up to 50 others, police said.

German media, citing police at the scene, said first indications pointed to an attack on the market, situated at the foot of the ruined Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church, which was kept as a bombed-out ruin after World War Two.

The incident evoked memories of an attack in France in July when Tunisian-born man drove a 19-tonne truck along the beach front, mowing down people who had gathered to watch the fireworks on Bastille Day, killing 86 people. The attack was claimed by Islamic State.

The truck careered into the Berlin market at what would have been one of the most crowded times for the Christmas market, when adults and children would be gathering in the traditional cluster of wooden huts that sell food and Christmas goods.

Berlin police said nine people were killed

“I heard a big noise and then I moved on the Christmas market and saw much chaos…many injured people,” Jan Hollitzer, deputy editor in chief of Berliner Morgenpost, told CNN.

“It was really traumatic.”

Police cars and ambulances converged quickly on the scene as a huge security operation unfolded. The fate of the driver of the truck was not immediately clear, but Bild newspaper said he was on the run.

Emma Rushton, a tourist visiting Berlin, told CNN the truck seemed to be traveling at about 40 mph (65 Kmh).

Asked how many were injured, she said that as she walked back to her hotel, she saw at least 10.

Julian Reichelt, editor in chief of Bild Berlin, said that there was currently a massive security operation under way.

“The scene certainly looks like a reminder of what we have seen in Nice,” Reichelt said,

(Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Writing by Robin Pomeroy and Ralph Boulton)

Creepy clown sightings no laughing matter as Halloween nears

clown at clown convention

By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Sightings across the United States of creepy clowns with red lips and fixed smiles are have become anything but a laughing matter and have cast a menacing tone as Halloween approaches.

Since late August, the trend of trying to scare unsuspecting people has grown with scary-looking clowns lurking in woods, appearing on dark roads or driving in cars, some brandishing knives.

The spine-chilling sightings have been reported in states ranging from California and Minnesota to South Carolina, New Jersey and New York and have generated the hashtag #IfISeeAClown and @ClownSightings on Twitter, which has 335,000 followers.

Even the White House weighed in on the sightings. Press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in response to a question at a briefing that local police take it quite seriously.

“If anything is suspicious, anything, be it somebody verbally or physically acting menacing in any type of costume, notify the police right away,” said Capt. Laurence Martin of the Wayne Police Department in New Jersey, which responded to a report of a clown sighting last week.

In nearby Fair Lawn, where young adults were stopped following a scary clown sighting report, police said trick-or-treaters should be vigilant.

“Have a heightened awareness about what is going on around you,” said Sgt. Brian Metzler of the Fair Lawn Police Department.

Best-selling author Stephen King, whose 1986 novel “It” weaves a tale of a Maine town being terrorized by a supernatural being that appears as a clown named Pennywise, took to Twitter to address the phenomenon.

“Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria – most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh,” he said in a recent post.

A film adaptation of King’s book is due to be released next year but the studio has denied any link to the scary clown sightings.

While the reports and hoax calls have been a headache for police, a concern for parents and resulted in arrests in some states, it has been a boost for online costume stores.

“There has been a bit of an uptick,” said Leigh Wendinger, the inbound marketing manager for Minnesota online retailer HalloweenCostumes.com.

She said clown costumes are up about 40 percent this year but it was difficult to say if it is due to the creepy clown sightings.

Online retailer HalloweenExpress.com has seen a three-fold rise in clown masks this year. The Kentucky-based company said eight of the top 10 sellers are evil or scary clown masks this season, compared to five in the top ten last year.

Party lines split U.S. on terror threat 15 years after 9/11: poll

An American flag flies near the base of the destroyed World Trade Center in New York on September 11 2001

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks nearing, Americans are sharply divided on party lines over the threat of a major terrorist attack on the United States, according to a poll released on Wednesday.

Forty percent of Americans say the ability of terrorists to strike the United States is greater than it was at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, according to the Pew Research Center survey of 1,201 adults.

That share is up 6 percentage points since November 2013 and marks the highest percentage with that view over the past 14 years. Thirty-one percent of respondents say terrorists’ abilities to attack are the same, and a quarter say it is less.

“The growth in the belief that terrorists are now better able to launch a major strike on the U.S. has come almost entirely among Republicans,” the Pew Research Center said.

Fifty-eight percent of Republicans say terrorists’ ability to hit the United States in a major attack is greater than at the time of 9/11, up 18 points since 2013, it said.

The poll results marked the first time that a majority in either political party had expressed that opinion, the Pew center said.

About a third of independents, or 34 percent, and 31 percent of Democrats say terrorists are better able to strike the United States than they were then. Those views are up 2 percentage points each from three years ago, according to the survey.

The partisan divide is in line with other opinion sampling on the U.S. government’s ability to deal with terrorism, Pew said.

In an April Pew poll, three-quarters of Democrats said the government was doing very or fairly well in reducing the threat from terrorism, while 29 percent of Republicans said the same.

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are a powerful memory for many Americans. Almost 3,000 people died when hijackers slammed airliners into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field

Ninety-one percent of the adults surveyed remember exactly where they were or what they were doing when they heard news about the attacks. Among those under 30, 83 percent said the same.

The Pew survey was conducted by telephone from Aug. 23 to Sept. 2. The margin of error is 3.2 percentage points, meaning results could vary that much either way.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Gun, bomb attack on American University in Kabul kills 12

tudents walk toward a police vehicle after they were rescued from the site of an attack at the American University of Afghanistan in

By Mirwais Harooni and Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters) – Twelve people, including seven students, were killed in an attack on the American University in Kabul that sent hundreds of students fleeing in panic, police said on Thursday, before the assault ended when two gunmen were shot dead.

The attack began at around 6:30 p.m. (1400 GMT) on Wednesday with a large explosion that officials said was a car bomb followed by gunfire, as suspected militants battled into the complex where foreign staff and pupils were working.

Elite Afghan forces surrounded the walled compound and eventually worked their way inside, according to a senior interior ministry official.

Sporadic gunfire could be heard through the night and, before dawn, police said the operation had concluded after they killed at least two attackers.

There was no claim of responsibility for an attack in which Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi said seven students, three policemen and two security guards were killed, the second incident involving the university this month.

President Ashraf Ghani called the assault “a cowardly attempt to hinder progress and development in Afghanistan”.

“Attacking educational institutions and public places and targeting civilians will not only fail to shake our determination, but will further strengthen it to fight and eradicate terror,” he said in a statement.

Islamist militant groups, mainly the Afghan Taliban and a local offshoot of Islamic State, have claimed a string of recent bomb attacks aimed at destabilizing Afghanistan and toppling the Western-backed government of Ghani.

One Ugandan man – a faculty member – was among the wounded, according to a list at the Kabul emergency hospital.

In a statement, the university said it was working with authorities to make sure everyone was accounted for.

“My number one priority at this point is the safety and security of all faculty staff, and students,” said Mark A. English, the university president.

Fraidoon Obaidi, chief of the Kabul police Criminal Investigation Department, told Reuters that police had evacuated between 700 and 750 students from the university, which is popular with the children of Afghanistan’s elite.


Terrified students recounted barricading themselves in classrooms or jumping from windows to escape.

“Many students jumped from the second floor, some broke their legs and some hurt their head trying to escape,” Abdullah Fahimi, a student who escaped, told Reuters. He injured his ankle making the leap.

“We were in the class when we heard a loud explosion followed by gunfire. It was very close. Some students were crying, others were screaming,” he said.

Others said they scrambled toward an emergency exit, scaled walls and jumped to safety.

The university buildings are protected by armed guards and watchtowers but the gunmen still got in.

Edrees Nawabi, another student at the university, said he had long been concerned about campus security.

“We were scared but also we wanted to be educated,” he said.

It was the second time this month that the university or its staff had been targeted.

Two teachers, an American and an Australian, were abducted at gunpoint from a road near the university on Aug. 7. They are missing.

The American University of Afghanistan has about 1,700 students and advertises itself as the country’s only not-for-profit, “non-partisan”, co-educational university. It opened in 2006 and caters to full-time and part-time students.

Taliban insurgents control large swaths of Afghanistan, and the security forces are struggling to contain them, especially in the provinces of Helmand to the south and Kunduz to the north.

NATO ended its combat mission in December 2014 but thousands of foreign troops remain to train and assist Afghan forces, while several thousand other U.S. soldiers are engaged in a separate mission focusing on al Qaeda and Islamic State.

The United States said it was closely monitoring the situation in Kabul following the university attack and that forces from the U.S.-led coalition were involved in the response in an advise-and-assist role.

State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said the U.S. Embassy was working to account for all of its personnel and to locate and assist any U.S. citizens affected.

(Additional reporting by Ayesha Rascoe, Susan Heavey and Arshad Mohammed in WASHINGTON; Writing by Mike Collett-White and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Paul Tait)

U.S. to allocate $10 million to non-profits colleges to fight extremism

Undated combination of undated photos from a social media account of Omar Mateen

y Julia Edwards

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will announce on Wednesday $10 million in grants for non-profit organizations and colleges to develop counseling programs and other services to turn people away from violent extremism, according to a senior DHS official.

The official, who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity before the planned announcement, said the department recognizes law enforcement is limited in its ability to intervene before someone becomes radicalized like Omar Mateen, the gunman who killed 49 people in Orlando last month.

After killings by Muslim extremists in San Bernardino, California, Boston and Garland, Texas, DHS officials found family and community members of the perpetrators suspected their intentions but did not know where to turn.

The grants are designed to support mental health clinics, community groups and other places where someone can be referred for help before they come under the radar of law enforcement.

The $10 million was allocated by Congress in December as part of an effort by the Justice Department and DHS to launch a softer, community-based approach to counter extremist messages like those promoted by the Islamic State militant group online.

The program, known as Countering Violent Extremism, began in three pilot cities last year: Minneapolis, Boston and Los Angeles. The program met some pushback from Muslim groups in those cities who said they were being unfairly targeted by the federal government.

The DHS official said the money could be used to intervene against any type of extremism, but he expected the majority of the grant applications to be aimed at combating Muslim extremism.

After the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013, the official said, the department began rethinking its approach to fighting extremism that relied mainly on strengthening local law enforcement.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Editing by W Simon)

Tight Security at July 4th Fests to counter terror fears, gun violence

member of the U.S. Army National Guard monitors commuters at Grand Central Station as security increases leading up to the Fourth of July weekend in Manhattan,

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United States celebrates July Fourth on Monday with parades, hotdog eating contests and fireworks shows amid heightened security because of concerns about terrorism in New York and timeworn holiday gun violence in Chicago.

Millions of Americans will mark independence from Britain with celebrations as boisterous as a music-packed party by country music legend Willie Nelson for 10,000 people at a race track in Austin, Texas and as staid as colonial-era costumed actors reading the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives in Washington.

History may be in the making in the traditional hotdog-eating contest at New York’s Coney Island. Joey “Jaws” Chestnut – a world record holder who ate 69 hotdogs in 10 minutes – attempts to regain his Mustard Yellow International Belt from Matt Stonie, who last year ended Chestnut’s run of eight straight victories.

With the holiday taking place days after the attack at Istanbul’s international airport, the New York Police Department will deploy eight new canines known as vapor wake dogs, trained to sniff out body-worn explosives, Commissioner Bill Bratton said on Friday.

The department’s human presence this holiday will be increased by nearly 2,000 new officers who graduated Friday from the New York City Police Academy.

“As we always have the capacity in New York to put out a lot of resources, that’s the name of the game, in dealing with terrorist threats,” Bratton said.

Police in Chicago, which has seen a spike in gun murders this year, announced a stepped up presence with more than 5,000 officers on patrol over the long weekend, traditionally one of the year’s most violent, said Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. Local media reported on Friday that 24 people had been shot over the past 24 hours, three fatally.

Dry weather forecasts across the country thrilled fireworks lovers, although some spots in Michigan have been so rain-starved that pyrotechnic shows were canceled in a handful of communities near Detroit to prevent fires.

NFL star Jason Pierre-Paul, who lost fingers as one of the 12,000 people injured and 11 killed in fireworks accidents last year, appeared in a public service announcement ahead of the 2016 holiday to urge greater caution.

“I lit up a firework, thought I could throw it away real quick and in a split second it blew off my whole hand,” the New York Giants defensive end said in the spot produced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York, Fiona Ortiz in Chicago, Adam DeRose in Washington, and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Alistair Bell)

France will see further terror attacks says Prime Minister

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls leaves the Elysee Palace following the weekly cabinet meeting in Paris

PARIS (Reuters) – France is doing all it can to prevent terrorist attacks but there will be more of them, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Wednesday following this week’s murder of a policeman and his wife by a Frenchman who pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

Valls said the intelligence and police services had foiled 15 attacks since 2013 and were waging a non-stop battle to track down would be terrorists.

“We need to tighten the net and give police and intelligence services all the means they need, but we will witness further attacks,” he said on France Inter radio.

“More innocents will lose their lives,” he said.

(Reporting By Brian Love; Editing by Andrew Callus)

Disney hikes security at theme parks with ‘visible safeguards’

Security officers staff the entrance at the Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida, U.S. June 13, 2016.

By Barbara Liston

(Reuters) – Walt Disney Co has raised security at its theme parks, the company said on Monday after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history in Orlando, Florida, the home of Walt Disney World.

“Unfortunately we’ve all been living in a world of uncertainty, and during this time we have increased our security measures across our properties, adding such visible safeguards as magnetometers, additional canine units, and law enforcement officers on site, as well as less visible systems that employ state-of-the-art security technologies,” spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler said in an email statement.

New York-born Omar Mateen, 29, killed 49 people in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub on Sunday. Mateen had scouted Walt Disney World as a potential target, People Magazine said on Monday, citing an unnamed federal law enforcement source. Reuters was unable to verify the report.

Disney World is the best known tourist destination in Orlando, a Florida city with several theme parks.

Outside the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World, where a U.S. flag flew at half mast in mourning, vacationers Ernst and Rose Lorentzen on Monday said that they had seen more uniformed security guards, marked vehicles and dog units at resort properties since the shooting. They said they had arrived at Disney World on June 8.

Bags of all guests are searched and some are selected for checks with a magnetometer, or metal detector. “They’re really doing a lot of random searches. Maybe one out of eight people,” Rose said.

Their Disney hotel where they are staying also has been more vigilant. They “gave us a look-see and checked our passes at the gate,” said Ernst, who is retired and declined to give his age. “Makes me feel like they’re more alert,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Timothy Ahmann in Washington; Writing by Mohammad Zargham and Peter Henderson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrew Hay)

After Deadly Tel Aviv attack, Israel suspends Palestinian permits

An injured man is taken into emergency room following a shooting attack that took place in the center of Tel Aviv

By Luke Baker and Jad Sleiman

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Israeli military on Thursday revoked permits for 83,000 Palestinians to visit Israel and said it would send hundreds more troops to the occupied West Bank after a Palestinian gun attack that killed four Israelis in Tel Aviv.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the assault by two gunmen on Wednesday in a trendy shopping and dining market near Israel’s Defence Ministry, but Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups were quick to praise it.

The assailants came from near Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. They dressed in suits and ties and posed as customers at a restaurant, ordering a drink and a chocolate brownie before pulling out automatic weapons and opening fire, sending diners fleeing in panic.

Two women and two men were killed and six others were wounded. The attack followed a lull in recent weeks after what had been near-daily stabbings and shootings on Israeli streets. It was the deadliest single incident since an attack on a Jerusalem synagogue in November 2014 that killed five.

The Tel Aviv gunmen, cousins in their 20s who security experts said appeared to have entered Israel without permits, were quickly apprehended. One of them was shot and wounded.

“It is clear that they spent time planning and training and choosing their target,” Barak Ben-Zur, former head of research at Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency, told reporters.

“They got some support, although we don’t know for sure who their supporters are,” he said, adding that they appeared to have used improvised automatic weapons smuggled into Israel.

The attack, as families were enjoying a warm evening out at the tree-lined Sarona market, took place a few hundred yards from the imposing Defence Ministry in the center of Tel Aviv, a city that has seen far less violence than Jerusalem.

After consultations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the military said it was rescinding some 83,000 permits issued to Palestinians from the West Bank to visit relatives in Israel during the ongoing Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

At an emergency meeting, Israel’s security cabinet discussed punitive measures against attackers, including destroying their homes more quickly, and efforts to bolster the number of security guards in public places, an official said.

The army announced that two battalions would be deployed in the West Bank to reinforce troops stationed in the area, where the military maintains a network of checkpoints and often carries out raids to arrest suspected militants. Israeli battalions are comprised of around 300 troops.

Such measures, including restrictions on access to Jerusalem’s Aqsa Mosque compound, the holy site in the heart of the Old City that Jews refer to as Temple Mount, have in the past lead to increased tension with the Palestinians.

After the attack, fireworks were set off in parts of the West Bank and in some refugee camps people sang, chanted and waved flags in celebration, locals said.

Hamas spokesman Hussam Badran called it “the first prophecy of Ramadan” and said the location of the attack, close to the Defence Ministry, “indicated the failure of all measures by the occupation” to end the uprising.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement saying he rejected “all operations that target civilians regardless of the source and their justification”.

During the past eight months of violence, Israel’s government has repeatedly criticized Palestinian factions for inciting attacks or not doing enough to quell them.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the largest group in the Palestine Liberation Organization after Abbas’s Fatah, described the killings as “a natural response to field executions conducted by the Zionist occupation”.

The group called it a challenge to Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s new defense minister, who must decide how to respond to the violence, possibly with tighter security across the West Bank. Lieberman said he would act, but didn’t say how.

The United Nations’ special coordinator for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, condemned the shootings and expressed alarm at the failure of Palestinian groups to speak out against the violence. The European Union did the same.

Netanyahu visited the scene minutes after arriving back from a two-day visit to Moscow. He described the attacks as “cold-blooded murder” and vowed retaliation.

“We will locate anyone who cooperated with this attack and we will act firmly and intelligently to fight terrorism,” Netanyahu said.

(Writing by Luke Baker, additional reporting by Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; editing by Dominic Evans)