Turkey says France could become ‘target’ for backing Syria Kurds

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting in Ankara, Turkey March 30, 2018. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

By Tuvan Gumrukcu

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey said on Friday that a French pledge to help stabilize a region of northern Syria controlled by Kurdish-dominated forces amounted to support for terrorism and could make France a “target of Turkey”.

French backing for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, has angered Ankara at a time when it is fighting the YPG in northern Syria and considers it a terrorist organization.

President Tayyip Erdogan said France had taken a “completely wrong approach” on Syria, adding that he exchanged heated words with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, last week.

The split with France is the latest rift between Turkey under Erdogan and its NATO allies in the West.

Turkey has long complained about U.S. support for the SDF, among a number of irritants to ties with the leading NATO power. Last year it compared the German and Dutch authorities to Nazis for restricting pro-Erdogan demonstrations during a campaign for a referendum to give him greater powers.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said the French stance was setting Paris on a collision course with Ankara.

“Those who enter into cooperation and solidarity with terror groups against Turkey…will, like the terrorists, become a target of Turkey,” Bozdag, who is also the Turkish government spokesman, wrote on Twitter. “We hope France does not take such an irrational step.”

Macron met an SDF delegation on Thursday and gave assurances of French support to stabilize northern Syria. A presidential source later said France could increase its military contribution to the U.S.-led coalition which – alongside the SDF – is fighting Islamic State in Syria.

The United States has 2,000 troops in SDF-held territory, and France also has some troops there as part of the coalition.

Ankara considers the YPG fighters in the SDF to be an extension of Kurdish militants who have waged a decades-old insurgency in southeast Turkey.

Turkish forces drove the YPG from the northwestern Syrian town of Afrin nearly two weeks ago and Erdogan says Ankara is preparing to extend operations along hundreds of miles of border, including areas where the American forces are deployed.

The Afrin operation has already drawn international criticism, notably from Macron. Ankara, meanwhile, has said it expects its allies to move their troops out of the way of a Turkish advance.

“We have no intention to harm soldiers of allied nations, but we cannot allow terrorists to roam freely (in northern Syria),” Erdogan said.

One U.S. service member and one other member of the U.S.-led coalition were killed by a bomb in Syria overnight, the first to die in an attack this year.

TRUMP SURPRISE

President Donald Trump added fresh uncertainty on Thursday when he said that the United States would be “coming out of Syria” very soon – comments which appeared to take his own administration by surprise.

U.S. officials have said in recent months that Washington planned to keep an open-ended presence in northern Syria, to support stability in the SDF-controlled region, prevent any Islamic State resurgence and counter Iranian influence.

SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel said the force had not been informed of any U.S. withdrawal plan.

“Our work and coordination (with the coalition) is continuing,” Gabriel told Reuters in a written message.

Asked whether U.S. forces had been informed of a decision to withdraw or were preparing to do so, a spokesman for the coalition said he would not comment on future operations.

A PYD member in Paris said Macron had promised at Thursday’s meeting with the SDF to send more troops to northern Syria, provide humanitarian assistance and push a diplomatic solution.

The French presidency did not confirm that Macron had pledged more troops, but the presidential source said France could bolster its military intervention in Syria “within the existing framework” of the U.S.-led coalition.

The presidency also said Macron was offering to mediate between Turkey and the SDF – a suggestion Erdogan dismissed.

“Do not engage in things beyond you, we do not need a mediator,” he said, responding to the French offer in remarks to members of his ruling AK Party in Ankara. “Who are you to speak of mediation between Turkey and a terrorist organization?”

Accusing Paris of appeasing terrorism, he said Macron would be held accountable for his policy by his own people.

“We hope France doesn’t come to us for help when the terrorists running from Syria and Iraq fill their country after being encouraged by their policy,” he said.

Erdogan spoke last week with Macron about the French president’s criticism of Turkey’s Afrin campaign.

“He was saying weird things and so, even if it was a bit high-octane, I had to tell him some things,” Erdogan said. “It is not anyone’s place to portray our armed forces as something we do not find acceptable.”

(Additional reporting by John Irish and Marine Pennetier in Paris, Tom Perry in Beirut and Maher Chmaytelli in Baghdad; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Peter Graff)

Deadly blast in Texas believed linked to earlier explosion

An FBI agent exits her car after arriving at the scene of an explosion near north Galindo street. Police investigators are at the home where a 17-year-old boy was killed and a woman injured in a package bomb explosion in Austin, Texas, U.S., March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Flo

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – A package bomb that killed a Texas teenager and injured a woman on Monday was believed to be linked to a deadly blast in the state’s capital city earlier this month, according to police, who were also investigating a third explosion that injured one.

Austin police said Monday’s package bomb that killed a 17-year-old, as well as a March 2 explosion that killed a man, were being investigated as homicides. The two homes that received the packages belonged to African-Americans.

“We cannot rule out that hate crime is at the core of this but we are not saying that that is the cause,” Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told a news conference.

Isiah Guerrero, 15, gives an interview to the media in the neighbourhood of the scene of an explosion. Police investigators are at the home where a 17-year-old boy was killed and a woman injured in a package bomb explosion in Austin, Texas, U.S., March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Flores

Police said they responded to a second explosion of a package on Monday at another home in which a woman was injured. A police spokeswoman was unable to confirm if it was related to the other two explosions.

Monday’s blasts were in homes about 4 miles (6 km) apart in east Austin, while the March 2 blast occurred at house in the city’s northeast Harris Ridge neighborhood.

The March 2 blast, which killed a 39-year-old man, was initially investigated as a suspicious death but is now being treated as a homicide.

In the deadly blast on Monday, the 17-year-old resident found a package in front of his house in the morning and brought it into the kitchen, where it exploded, Manley said. The woman, in her 40s, was taken to an area hospital with injuries that were not thought to be life-threatening.

“We are looking at these incidents as being related,” Manley said, adding that federal investigators have joined the case.

After the March 2 explosion, Austin police said they had no indication the blast was related to terrorism.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Andrew Hay; Editing by Susan Thomas and Tom Brown)

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)

Turkey detains nearly 600 for opposing Syrian offensive

Turkish military armoured vehicles arrive at a border village near the town of Hassa in Hatay province, Turkey, January 21, 2018

By Tuvan Gumrukcu and Dominic Evans

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has so far detained 573 people for social media posts and protests criticizing its military offensive in Syria, the government said on Monday.

The crackdown, which has extended to the national medical association, has deepened concerns about free speech under President Tayyip Erdogan, who has criticized opponents of the military intervention as “traitors”.

Turkey last month launched an air and ground offensive, dubbed Operation Olive Branch, against the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region. Authorities have repeatedly warned they would prosecute those opposing, criticizing or misrepresenting the incursion.

“Since the start of Operation Olive Branch, 449 people have been detained for spreading terrorist propaganda on social media and 124 people detained for taking part in protest action,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The operation has been widely supported by Turkey’s mainly pro-government media and by most political parties, with the exception of the pro-Kurdish opposition.

Last week, a prosecutor ordered the detention of 11 senior members of the Turkish Medical Association, including its chairman, after the organization criticized the incursion, saying: “No to war, peace immediately”.

Erdogan criticized the body as traitors. All of the doctors have since been released on probation, the association said on Twitter. Detention orders have been issued for another 13 people for supporting the medics.

“There are laws that prohibit the glorification of terrorism, support for terrorism through propaganda and media. The prosecutors are implementing the laws,” Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, told reporters in Istanbul at the weekend.

Ankara considers the U.S.-backed YPG, which controls Afrin, to be a terrorist group and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has fought an insurgency in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast since 1984.

Turkey is in the midst of a widening crackdown that began after a failed coup attempt in July 2016. Some 50,000 people have been jailed and 150,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs.

Critics, including rights groups and some Western allies, say Erdogan is using the coup as a pretext to muzzle dissent. The latest arrests have also drawn criticism from the European Union.

Turkey says its measures are necessary due to the gravity of the security threats it faces.

(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by David Dolan and Janet Lawrence)

Netanyahu says Israel, India both face threat from radical Islam

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi looks on during a signing of agreements ceremony at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India January 15, 2018.

By Sanjeev Miglani

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday he was discussing with India ways to strengthen security cooperation against the menace of from Islamist extremism that both democracies faced.

Netanyahu spoke while on a six-day tour of India, the first by an Israeli premier for 15 years, and is being feted by Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, whose Hindu nationalist party has long admired Israel for its tough posture against terrorism.

India, wary of upsetting Arab nations on which it was dependent for oil, and heeding the sentiments of its own large Muslim minority, kept a distance from Israel for decades. But under Modi, the two sides have embraced a closer relationship based on security and economics.

The right-wing Netanyahu told a security conference that India and Israel were two democracies with a natural affinity, but their open and liberal societies faced risks.

“Our way of life is being challenged, most notably, the quest for modernity, the quest for innovation (are) being challenged by radical Islam and its terrorist offshoots from a variety of corners,” he said.

Both Israel and India have long sought to counter militant Islamists – in Israel’s case, mainly from Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai region and, in India’s case, mainly from Pakistan. Away from the public eye, India and Israel have been cooperating against the threat through, in part, intelligence sharing, officials say.

“We’ve discussed in this visit how we can strengthen our two nations in the civilian areas, in security areas, in every area,” Netanyahu told the conference.

His trip to India comes just six months after Modi made the first trip by an Indian prime minister to Israel, during which he did not go to Ramallah, seat of the self-ruling Palestinian Authority and a customary stop for leaders visiting the region.

Netanyahu toured the Taj Mahal on Tuesday and will also visit Modi’s home state of Gujarat and India’s financial capital Mumbai.

He will join an 11-year-old Israeli boy, Moshe Holtzberg, whose parents were murdered by Pakistan-based militants in Mumbai in 2008, for a memorial event at the Indian financial hub’s Jewish center where the attack took place.

The boy, who lives with his grandparents in Israel, arrived on Tuesday as a guest of Modi.

(Additional reporting by Neha Dasgupta; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Putin says St. Petersburg supermarket bombing was terrorism

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a state awards ceremony for military personnel who served in Syria, at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia December 28, 2017

By Andrew Osborn and Denis Pinchuk

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said a bomb blast in a St. Petersburg supermarket on Wednesday was an act of terrorism, and that security forces whose lives were threatened by terrorist suspects should shoot to kill if necessary.

Putin, who is running for re-election in March, was speaking on Thursday at an awards ceremony in the Kremlin for Russian personnel who served in Russia’s Syria campaign, which Moscow has framed as an anti-terrorism operation.

“You know that yesterday in St. Petersburg a terrorist act was carried out,” Putin told the audience, referring to the explosion that injured 13 shoppers in a branch of the Perekrestok supermarket chain.

Investigators have opened a criminal case into Wednesday evening’s blast, which they say was caused by a homemade bomb packed with pieces of metal.

Russian media reports said the bomb was hidden inside a rucksack in a locker where shoppers leave their belongings and said the person who left the bomb, described as being of “non-Slavic appearance”, had been caught on CCTV.

No group has claimed responsibility.

Russia has repeatedly been the target of attacks by Islamist militant groups, including an attack in April that killed 14 people when an explosion tore through a train carriage in a metro tunnel in St. Petersburg.

That attack was claimed by a militant group which said the suicide bomber was acting on the orders of al Qaeda. Russian police detained several suspects in that attack from mainly Muslim states in ex-Soviet central Asia.

“ACT DECISIVELY”

Putin told the ceremony the FSB security service, which he used to run before he became president, had also prevented “another attempted terrorist act”.

A Kremlin spokesman said Putin was referring to a foiled attack on Kazansky Cathedral, in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second city.

The Kremlin said earlier this month that a U.S. tip-off had helped thwart the attack in a rare public show of cooperation despite deep strains between the two countries.

An interior view of a supermarket is seen after an explosion in St Petersburg, Russia, in this photo released by Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committe on December 28, 2017.

An interior view of a supermarket is seen after an explosion in St Petersburg, Russia, in this photo released by Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committe on December 28, 2017. National Anti-Terrorism Committe/Handout via REUTERS

Russian media reported earlier this month that the Federal Security Service had detained seven members of an Islamic State cell who had been planning the attack.

Putin told the same awards ceremony that the security situation in Russia would be much worse if thousands of Russian citizens who fought with Islamic State in Syria had been allowed to return home.

“What would have happened if those thousands of people … returned to us (from Syria). If they returned with good weapons training …,” he said.

Russian security officials have said that thousands of citizens from ex-Soviet Central Asia or from the Muslim-majority North Caucasus region of Russia, which includes Chechnya, traveled to Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State.

Putin said security forces should take no chances with their own lives if confronted by terrorist suspects.

“I yesterday ordered the FSB director to act within the framework of the law when detaining these bandits of course, but if there is a threat to the life and well-being of our employees … to act decisively, not take any prisoners, and liquidate the bandits on the spot.”

(Additional reporting by Polina Devitt; Editing by Alison Williams)

Turkey’s Erdogan calls Syria’s Assad a terrorist, says impossible to continue with him

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference with Tunisia's President Beji Caid Essebsi (not pictured) at Carthage Palace in Tunis, Tunisia, December 27, 2017.

TUNIS (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a terrorist and said it was impossible for Syrian peace efforts to continue with him.

Syria’s foreign ministry quickly responded by accusing Erdogan of himself supporting terrorist groups fighting Assad in Syria’s civil war.

Turkey has demanded the removal of Assad from power and backed rebels fighting to overthrow him, but it has toned down its demands since it started working with Assad’s allies Russia and Iran for a political resolution.

“Assad is definitely a terrorist who has carried out state terrorism,” Erdogan told a televised news conference with his Tunisian counterpart Beji Caid Essebsi in Tunis.

“It is impossible to continue with Assad. How can we embrace the future with a Syrian president who has killed close to a million of his citizens?” he said, in some of his harshest comments for weeks.

Though Turkey has long demanded Assad’s removal, it is now more focused in Syria on the threat from Islamist militants and Kurdish fighters it considers allies of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who it says have formed a “terror corridor” on its southern border.

Turkey says the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara views as an extension of the outlawed PKK which has fought an insurgency in southeast Turkey since the 1980s, cannot be invited to Syrian peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana.

The YPG is the main element in a force that Washington has assisted with training, weapons, air support and help from ground advisers in the battle against Islamic State. That U.S. support has angered Ankara, a NATO ally of Washington.

Despite its differences with Russia and Iran, Turkey has worked with the two powers in the search for a political solution in Syria.

Ankara, Moscow and Tehran also brokered a deal to set up and monitor a “de-escalation zone” to reduce fighting between insurgents and Syrian government forces in Syria’s rebel-held northwestern Idlib province.

“We can’t say (Assad) will handle this. It is impossible for Turkey to accept this. Northern Syria has been handed over as a terror corridor. There is no peace in Syria and this peace won’t come with Assad,” Erdogan said.

Syria’s state news agency SANA quoted a foreign ministry source as saying Erdogan “continues to misdirect Turkish public opinion with his usual froth in an attempt to absolve himself of the crimes which he has committed against the Syrian people through advancing support to the various terrorist groups in Syria”.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Editing by Dominic Evans and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Australia police say don’t suspect terrorism after car plows into pedestrians

Australian police stand near a crashed vehicle after they arrested the driver of a vehicle that had ploughed into pedestrians at a crowded intersection near the Flinders Street train station in central Melbourne, Australia December 21, 2017.

By Melanie Burton and Byron Kaye

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – An Australian man of Afghan descent with a history of mental health issues drove a car into Christmas shoppers in the city of Melbourne on Thursday, injuring 19 people, but police said they did not believe the attack was terror-related.

In January, four people were killed and more than 20 injured when a man drove into pedestrians just a few hundred meters away from Thursday’s attack. That too was not a terror attack.

Jim Stoupas, the owner of a donut shop at the scene, told Reuters the vehicle was traveling up to 100 kph (62 mph) when it drove into the intersection packed with people, hitting one person after another.

“All you could hear was just ‘bang bang bang bang bang’ and screams,” Stoupas said in a telephone interview, adding the car came to rest by a tram stop.

Police said they detained the 32-year-old driver, an Australian of Afghan descent with a history of assault, drug use and mental health issues.

“At this time, we don’t have any evidence or intelligence to indicate a connection with terrorism,” said the acting chief commissioner of Victoria State, Shane Patton.

Four of the injured were in critical condition, including a pre-school aged boy who suffered a head injury.

Police also detained a 24-year-old man at the scene who was filming the incident and had a bag with knifes.

Patton said it was “quite probable” the 24-year-old was not involved.

The men had not been charged and their names have not been released by police.

The attack took place on Flinders Street, a major road that runs alongside the Yarra River, in the central business district of Australia’s second-biggest city.

Melbourne has installed about 140 concrete bollards in the city center to stop vehicle attacks by militants similar to recent attacks in Europe and the United States.

“We’ve seen an horrific act, an evil act, an act of cowardice perpetrated against innocent bystanders,” said the state premier, Daniel Andrews.

Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, has also installed concrete barricades in main pedestrian thoroughfares.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the emergency health workers who are treating them,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a post on his official Twitter account.

Australia has been on a “high” national threat level since 2015, citing the likelihood of attacks by Australians radicalized in Iraq and Syria.

Two hostages were killed during a 17-hour siege by a “lone wolf” gunman, inspired by Islamic State militants, in a cafe in Sydney in December 2014.

 

(Reporting by Melanie Burton in MELBOURNE and Byron Kaye in SYDNEY; additional reporting by Sonali Paul and Paulina Duran; writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Nick Macfie, Robert Birsel)

Homegrown attacks rising worry in U.S. as Islamic State weakens abroad

Homegrown attacks rising worry in U.S. as Islamic State weakens abroad

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The online video’s message was clear: Supporters of Islamic State who could not travel overseas to join the militant group should carry out attacks wherever they were in the United States or Europe.

Bangladeshi immigrant Akayed Ullah, 27, followed those instructions on Monday when he tried to set off a homemade bomb in one of New York’s busiest commuter hubs, in an attack that illustrates the difficulty of stopping “do-it-yourself” attacks by radicals who act alone.

While harder to stop than attacks coordinated by multiple people – whose communications may be more easily monitored by law enforcement or intelligence agencies – they also tend to do less damage. Ullah was the person most seriously wounded when his bomb ignited but did not detonate in an underground passageway linking the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the Times Square subway statin; three others sustained lesser injuries.

“They tend to be less organized and less deadly,” said Seamus Hughes, a former adviser at the U.S. government’s National Counterterrorism Center. “That’s because you’re dealing with more, for lack of a better word, amateurs.”

The do-it-yourself style of attack is on the rise in the United States, according to research by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, where Hughes is deputy director.

The United States has seen 19 attacks perpetrated by Islamic State-inspired people since the group declared a “caliphate” in June 2014 after capturing broad swaths of Iraq and Syria. Of those, 12 occurred in 2016 and 2017, almost twice as many as in the two preceding years.

“You’re going to see continued numbers of plots and, unfortunately, attacks,” Hughes said.

Ullah began immersing himself in Islamic State propaganda as early as 2014, three years after he arrived in the United States as a legal immigrant, according to federal prosecutors who charged him with terrorism offenses. They said in court papers that Ullah’s computer records showed that he viewed ISIS videos urging supporters of the group to launch attacks where they lived.

Experts said the success of Western allies in retaking most of Islamic State’s territory could inspire more attacks out of anger or vengeance.

“No group has been as successful at drawing people into its perverse ideology as ISIS,” Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray said in congressional testimony last week. “Through the internet, terrorists overseas now have access into our local communities to target and recruit our citizens.”

National security analysts generally divide such perpetrators into three broad categories.

Some attackers act at the direction of a group, like the Islamic State-backed militants who carried out coordinated attacks in Paris in 2015, killing 130; others have some limited contact with an organization but act largely on their own. A third type has no communication with a group but engage in violence after being radicalized by online propaganda.

It is easier for trained, battle-hardened ISIS fighters to travel from the Middle East to Europe than for them to reach the United States. That helps explain why U.S. attacks have largely been the work of “self-made” terrorists, said Brandeis University professor and radicalization expert Jytte Klausen.

“In these recent cases, we’ve seen very few indications that there was any type of direct training,” Klausen said.

Self-directed perpetrators are the hardest for investigators to identify. Their ranks appear to include Ullah, as well as two other recent New York attackers: Ahmad Rahimi, the man who injured 30 with a homemade bomb in Manhattan in September 2016, and Sayfullo Saipov, the Uzbek immigrant accused of killing eight by speeding a rental truck down a bike lane in October.

While that type of attacker typically is less destructive, there are important exceptions. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols killed 168 people, and Omar Mateen gunned down 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando last year.

“A single individual or two can still create a lot of damage,” said Max Abrahms, a professor at Northeastern University who studies terrorism. “But they’re not able to wage sustained terrorist campaigns.”

(This story has been refiled to restore dropped word “as” in 6th paragraph)

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

South Korea conducts anti-terror drills ahead of Winter Games

South Korea conducts anti-terror drills ahead of Winter Games

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Set to host the Winter Olympics in February, South Korea conducted a series of security drills on Tuesday to prepare against terror attacks ranging from a hostage situation, a vehicle ramming a stadium and a bomb-attached to a drone.

Police and firemen were among around 420 personnel participating in the exercise, held in front of the Olympic Stadium at Pyeongchang, just 80 km (50 miles) from the heavily fortified border with North Korea.

During the simulated drills, members of a SWAT team shot down a drone with a bomb attached that was flying toward a bus carrying athletes.

In another part of the mock exercise a terrorist took hostage athletes on a bus, and tried to ram the vehicle into the stadium before being gunned down by police. Officers in gas masks also removed a chemical bomb.

Anxiety on the Korean Peninsula has been rising in recent months due to a series of missile tests by North Korea as it continues its pursuit of nuclear weapons in defiance of U.N. sanctions and warnings from the United States.

“Please keep in mind that accidents always happen where no one has expected,” South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said.

“Please check until the last minute whether there are any security loopholes.”

Lee did not mention North Korea, but South Korea’s Defense Ministry on Friday flagged risks that North Korea could resort to terrorist or cyber attacks to spoil international events.

Some 5,000 armed forces personnel will be deployed at the Winter Games, according to South Korean government officials and documents reviewed by Reuters.

Pyeongchang’s organizing committee for the 2018 Games (POCOG) has also hired a private cyber security company to guard against a hacking attack from the North, tender documents show.

To minimize the risk of provoking an aggressive North Korean reaction during the games, South Korea has asked Washington to delay regular joint military exercises until after the Olympics, the Financial Times reported. A spokesman for South Korea’s defense ministry said on Tuesday that nothing has been decided.

(Reporting by Choi Jiwon and Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)