Tampa police hunt possible serial killer after three shootings

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(Reuters) – Police in Florida warned residents of a central Tampa neighborhood not to go out alone after dark as they search for a possible serial killer they believe fatally shot three people in nighttime ambushes over the last two weeks.

At least two of the victims were trying to catch a bus in the Seminole Heights section when they were shot, police said.

Benjamin Mitchell, 22, was alone at the bus stop after dark when he was shot on Oct. 9. Monica Hoffa, 32, was walking through the neighborhood two days later to meet a friend when she was shot. Anthony Naiboa, 20, was trying to find a bus stop when he was shot on Oct. 19.

Police say they think a single killer is behind all three attacks because they happened so near to each other at roughly the same time in the evening and without any obvious motive.

“We need everyone to come out of their homes at night and turn on their porch lights and just not tolerate this type of terrorism in the neighborhood,” Brian Dugan, the Tampa police department’s interim chief, told reporters at a news conference on Friday.

He said people should not go out alone and should pay attention to their surroundings.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay are offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer or killers.

Police have released an indistinct video of a person wearing a hooded top they think may be the killer.

 

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Jeffrey Benkoe)

 

Israel: No peace talks with Palestinian government reliant on Hamas

Israel: No peace talks with Palestinian government reliant on Hamas

By Ori Lewis

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Tuesday it would not hold peace negotiations with a Palestinian government dependent on the Islamist Hamas group, responding to a new reconciliation agreement between the two main Palestinian factions.

Hamas, dominant in Gaza, and West Bank-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction sealed a deal last week in Cairo in which Hamas agreed to cede administrative control of Gaza, including the key Rafah border crossing.

Under the Egyptian-brokered accord, the Fatah-backed government headed by Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah will run Gaza and the West Bank and Palestinian officials said there were no plans to add Hamas ministers to the government.

The last Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014, partly due to Israel’s opposition to an earlier attempt at a Fatah-Hamas unity pact, and to Israeli settlement building on occupied land Palestinians seek for a state, among other factors.

In a statement on Tuesday after a meeting of senior Israeli ministers known as the Security Cabinet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed longstanding Israeli demands that Hamas abandon militancy.

“Pursuant to previous decisions, (Israel) will not conduct diplomatic negotiations with a Palestinian government that relies on Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel, as long as it does not fulfill the following conditions,” the statement began.

It outlined seven conditions including a demand that Hamas recognize Israel and disarm, sever its ties with Iran, return bodies of Israeli soldiers and civilians Israel believes are alive and held in Gaza, and that Abbas’s Palestinian Authority (PA) assume full security control of the coastal enclave.

Under the reconciliation deal, about 3,000 Fatah security officers are to join the Gaza police force but Hamas will remain the most powerful armed Palestinian faction in the territory, with some 25,000 well-equipped militants.

Hamas seized Gaza from Fatah forces in a brief Palestinian civil war in 2007 and previous Egyptian mediation efforts to reconcile the rivals fell short.

Analysts said the current deal is more likely to stick, given Hamas’s growing isolation from erstwhile donor states and realization of how hard it would be to govern and rebuild Gaza.

PALESTINIANS UNMOVED

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said the Palestinians would not be swayed by Israel’s statement as it “will not change the official Palestinian position to move forward with reconciliation efforts.”

He said the deal and the PA’s return to Gaza had been welcomed by major powers including the United States and this would “achieve the aspirations of our people … ending the occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state.”

Netanyahu’s call is certain to please the right flank of his coalition and settler supporters with whom he has tried to find favor. On Tuesday, Israel announced more plans to build hundreds of new settler homes in the occupied West Bank.

But it could hamper U.S. mediation attempts to resume peace negotiations. U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace negotiator, Jason Greenblatt, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner have held discussions to achieve what Trump hopes will be the “deal of the century”.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Iran president defends Guards in show of unity anticipating Trump

FILE PHOTO - Iran's President Hassan Rouhani listens during a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 23, 2014. REUTERS/Jewel Samad/Pool/File Photo

By Babak Dehghanpisheh

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Iran’s moderate president gave a full-throated defense of his one-time rivals in the Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday, as the country’s pragmatist and hardline factions rallied together in the face of threats from Donald Trump.

The U.S. president is expected to “decertify” Iran’s nuclear deal with global powers this week and add its Revolutionary Guards military force to Washington’s black list of terrorist groups under a strategy to increase pressure on Tehran.

The threat of U.S. action has united the two main factions of Iran’s leadership, with the pragmatists led by President Hassan Rouhani who seek greater openness to the West demonstrating their support for the hardline Guards.

During a cabinet meeting shown on state television on Wednesday, Rouhani said U.S. action against the Guards would be a “mistake beyond mistakes”.

“They think that the Guards are a military entity. The Revolutionary Guards are not a military entity. They’re in the heart of the people. The Revolutionary Guards, in all the days of danger, have defended our national interests,” he said.

“We’re one society. We’re Iran. There are no differences between different factions in confronting the plots of our enemies,” he added.

Rouhani, the architect of Iran’s 2015 deal with global powers to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions, won re-election in a landslide five months ago on a platform promising greater openness to the world and reform at home.

During an unprecedentedly bitter campaign, he repeatedly spoke out in public against the political influence of the Guards, accusing them of backing his hardline opponent to defend their economic interests.

In recent days, however, the threat of new action from Washington has prompted a public display of unity from the rival factions among Iran’s rulers.

“Today, the president of America has created conditions where Iran is more united than ever. Today, those who oppose the nuclear deal and those who support it are side by side. We all have one voice,” Rouhani said.

Newspapers on Tuesday ran pictures of the urbane, U.S.-educated Foreign Minister Javad Zarif laughing and hugging the commander of the guards, Major-General Mohammad Ali Jafari.

Zarif brief lawmakers on Wednesday about the expected U.S. action and about Iran’s plans for a response, according to members of parliament quoted in state media.

“CRUSHING RESPONSE”

“In the closed session Zarif emphasized that if the Americans take any steps against the nuclear deal that the Islamic Republic of Iran will give them a more crushing response,” Shahbaz Hassanpour, a lawmaker representing the city of Sirjan, told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

Lawmakers did not disclose the specific actions that Zarif had discussed as plans for Iranian retaliation.

Trump’s expected move to decertify the nuclear deal would not by itself withdraw the United States from the agreement, but would pass that decision on to Congress, requiring lawmakers to decide within 60 days whether to re-impose sanctions.

The nuclear deal is supported by Washington’s European allies Britain, France and Germany, as well as by Russia and China, all of which say Iran has complied so far.

Adding the Guards to the terrorism blacklist could have economic consequences, since the elite military force also has a vast business empire in Iran. International banks are required to make sure their clients are not blacklisted.

Washington has already blacklisted other entities and individuals for supporting Guards’ activities, but has not yet blacklisted the Guards themselves.

During the meeting with Zarif, parliament members expressed their support for the Guards, Hassanpour said. Zarif also noted during the session that European countries will continue backing the nuclear deal regardless of what actions the U.S may take, Hassanpour told IRNA.

(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; editing by Peter Graff)

Iran has ‘all options on table’ if U.S. blacklists Revolutionary Guards

FILE PHOTO: Members of the Iranian revolutionary guard march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran September 22, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) – Iran told the United States on Tuesday that it will keep “all options on table” if President Donald Trump designates its elite Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.

It came hours after the government said Washington itself would be aiding terrorism if it took such an action.

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to announce this week his final decision on how he wants to contain Iran’s regional influence.

Trump is also expected to “decertify” a landmark 2015 deal Iran struck with world powers to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most international sanctions. Trump’s announcement would stop short of pulling out of the agreement, punting that decision to Congress which would have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions.

He is also expected to designate Iran’s most powerful security force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, as a terrorist organization.

U.S. sanctions on the IRGC could affect conflicts in Iraq and Syria, where Tehran and Washington both support warring parties that oppose the Islamic State militant group.

“The Americans are too small to be able to harm the Revolutionary Guards,” Ali Akbar Velayati, the top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying by ISNA. “We have all options on the table. Whatever they do, we will take reciprocal measures,” he added.

The Iranian nuclear deal, agreed in 2015 and supported by European countries, Russia and China, lifted international sanctions on Iran in return for it agreeing to curbs on its nuclear program.

“FIRM, DECISIVE AND CRUSHING”

Washington maintains separate unilateral sanctions on Iran over its missile program and allegations that it supports terrorism in the Middle East. It already blacklists some individuals and entities for supporting IRGC activities, but not the Guards themselves.

The Guards have a vast economic empire in Iran. Designating them terrorists could make it more difficult for some Iranian businesses to take advantage of the lifting of sanctions to interact with global banks, which are required to verify that their clients are not on terrorism blacklists.

Iran’s rial has dropped against the U.S. dollar in recent days in a sign of concern about Trump’s policy. The rial was quoted in the free market around 40,400 to the dollar, currency exchangers in Tehran told Reuters, compared to 39,200 last week. Several exchangers said they had stopped selling dollars from Monday and were waiting to assess the trend in the market.

An Iranian government spokesman said that the world should be “thankful” to the Revolutionary Guards for fighting against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups.

“By taking a stance against the Revolutionary Guards and designating it a terrorist group, the Americans would be joining the terrorists’ camp,” Mohammad Baqer Nobakht said in a weekly news conference broadcast live on state television.

IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said on Sunday that if Washington designated the Guards a terrorist organization, they “will consider the American army to be like Islamic State all around the world.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said on Monday that Tehran would give a “firm, decisive and crushing” response if the United States goes ahead with such a plan.

Washington aims to put more pressure on the IRGC, especially over its missile program. Trump said in September that recent IRGC missile tests illustrated the weakness of the nuclear deal reached by his predecessor Barack Obama.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran purposefully excluded its military capability from the nuclear deal, as “it is not intended as leverage or a bargaining chip in future negotiations”.

In an article published in the Atlantic on Monday Zarif added: “No party or country need fear our missiles … unless it intends to attack our territory.”

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Peter Graff)

Eleven injured in car crash near London museum, terrorism ruled out

Police officers stand in the road near the Natural History Museum, after a car mounted the pavement injuring a number of pedestrians, police said, in London, Britain October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – Eleven people were injured on Saturday when a car collided with pedestrians near London’s Natural History Museum, in one of the capital’s busiest tourist areas, but police doused fears it was a terrorist attack, saying it was a road traffic incident.

Police said it was believed the car had mounted the pavement outside the popular attraction in west London and collided with a number of pedestrians. Officers had arrested a man at the scene and he was now being questioned.

Britain has suffered five attacks blamed on terrorism so far this year, three of which involved vehicles, and the incident in an area packed with tourists at the weekend had prompted concerns that the collision had been a deliberate act.

“The incident is a road traffic investigation and not a terrorist-related incident,” a police statement said.

London’s ambulance service said they had treated 11 people, mostly for head and leg injuries, with nine taken to hospital. Police said none of the injuries were life-threatening or life-changing.

Unverified footage from the scene showed a man being pinned to the ground by what appeared to be four security guards or police officers.

The Natural History Museum is located on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, one of the British capital’s most upmarket districts and home to a host of other museums, restaurants as well as university buildings.

It is the fourth most popular tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, with 4.6 million visits during 2016, according to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions.

The collision brought the area to a standstill as police cordoned off a wide area whilst they carried out their investigation.

“My thanks to the first responders at this incident this afternoon and the actions of members of the public. My thoughts are with the injured,” Prime Minister Theresa May said on Twitter.

Britain is on its second highest security alert level, meaning an attack by militants is considered highly likely.

In March, a man drove a car into pedestrians on London’s Westminster Bridge killing four before stabbing a police officer to death in the grounds of parliament.

Three Islamist militants drove into people on London Bridge in June before stabbing people at nearby restaurants and bars, killing eight. The same month, a van was driven into worshippers near a mosque in north London which left one man dead.

(Editing by Alison Williams and Peter Graff)

Five detained over wired explosives found in posh Paris neighborhood

By Emmanuel Jarry

PARIS (Reuters) – French counter-terrorism investigators questioned five people on Tuesday after police over the weekend found what appeared to be a ready-to-detonate bomb at an apartment building in one of Paris’s poshest neighborhoods.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said one of those arrested was on an intelligence services list of “radicalized” persons – a list that includes the names of potential Islamist militants.

“We are still in a state of war,” Collomb, speaking after a Sunday attack in which a man stabbed and killed two women outside the train station in Marseille, told France Inter radio.

Judicial sources said the explosive device included two gas canisters inside the building in the affluent 16th district of western Paris and two outside, some of them doused with petrol and wired to connect to a mobile phone.

More than 230 people have been killed in attacks by Islamist militants in France over the past three years. The Islamic State militant group, whose bases in Syria and Iraq are being bombed by French war planes, has urged followers to attack France.

Most of those killed died when Islamist gunmen and suicide bombers targeted Paris in 2015, and when a man drove a large truck into crowds in the Riviera resort of Nice in 2016.

Since then, there has been a string of attacks perpetrated by lone assailants, often targeting police or soldiers.

“The threat is changing form,” said Collomb.

A counter-terrorism investigation is also under way after the attack on Sunday, when a man slit the throat of one of his victims and killed her cousin before being shot dead by soldiers in the southern port city.

Tunisian authorities have identified the attacker as Ahmed Hanachi, Collomb told parliament. He lived in France from 2005 to 2006 and was known to police under several alias’ for petty crimes, but had not previously caught the attention of French intelligence agencies.

Hanachi was arrested in the city of Lyon on Friday on suspicion of theft. He was carrying a Tunisian passport and released 24 hours later, a day before committing the attack.

“All these years, he used multiple identities in France as well as in Italy, declaring himself to be Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian,” Collomb said.

France declared a state of emergency in late 2015 after the Paris attack, giving police special search and arrest powers to combat would-be terrorists.

Lawmakers will vote later on Tuesday on a bill to convert many of those emergency measures into common law.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Brian Love and Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Richard Lough)

Oklahoma man convicted of murder in beheading case: media

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – An Oklahoma man who had converted to Islam was convicted of murder on Friday in the case of a female co-worker who was beheaded three years ago, after the jury rejected his plea of insanity, local media reported.

A jury also found Alton Nolen, 33, guilty of assault crimes after less than two hours of deliberation in Cleveland County criminal court, the Oklahoman newspaper reported.

Nolan had been suspended from his job at a food distribution plant in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, when he carried out the attack on co-workers in September, 2014.

He grabbed Colleen Hufford, 54, from behind and cut her across the throat with a large knife at Vaughan Foods plant in Moore, police said.

He also wounded co-worker Traci Johnson, who survived. The carnage ended when Nolan was shot inside the warehouse by a company executive.

After his arrest, Nolen confessed to investigators, telling them in a recording that he felt oppressed, the Oklahoman newspaper reported.

“You know all I was doing was … what I was supposed to do as a Muslim,” he said in the recording, which was played for jurors, according to the Oklahoman.

His attorneys asked jurors to find their client not guilty by reason of insanity, the Oklahoman reported, as the lawyers said Nolen had constructed his own religion out of conflicting beliefs.

Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty in the penalty phase of the trial, scheduled to begin next week.

“I’m definitely pleased with the outcome thus far,” Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn told reporters after the verdict. “Justice for Colleen is what we’re all wanting.”

Nolen has said that he wants to be executed.

In October 2015, a Cleveland County judge dismissed claims that Nolen was mentally impaired and declared him competent to stand trial.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Afghan Shi’ites fear further attacks on Ashura celebrations

File Photo - Afghan security forces inspect at the site of a suicide attack near a large Shi'ite mosque, Kabul, Afghanistan. September 29, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

KABUL (Reuters) – The Afghan capital Kabul braced on Saturday for further possible attacks ahead of Ashura, the holiest day on the Shi’ite Muslim calendar, a day after an attack claimed by Islamic State that killed at least five people near a large Shi’ite mosque.

Ahead of the celebration on Sunday, signs of increased security were in evidence across Kabul, with extra police checkpoints and roadblocks in many areas, while security was also increased in other cities.

Afghanistan, a majority Sunni Muslim country, has traditionally not suffered the sectarian violence that has devastated countries like Iraq, but a series of attacks over recent years have targeted the Shi’ite community.

“We are concerned about this. We had internal fighting in the past but never religious fighting,” said Arif Rahmani, a member of parliament and a member of the mainly Shi’ite Hazara community that has been particularly targeted.

The government has provided some basic training and weapons for a few hundred volunteer guards near mosques and other meeting places but many fear that the protection, which covers only some of the city’s more than 400 Shi’ite mosques, is insufficient.

In 2011, more than 80 people were killed in Ashura attacks in Kabul and the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and there have been a string of others since, with 20 people killed in a suicide attack on a mosque in Kabul a month ago.

Friday’s attack, by suicide bombers posing as shepherds walking their sheep along a road outside the Hussainya mosque in the Qala-e-Fatehullah area of the city, did not reach the mosque itself but wounded 20 people in addition to the five killed.

No up-to-date census data exists for Afghanistan but different estimates put the size of the Shi’ite community at between 10-20 percent of the population, mostly Persian-speaking Tajiks and Hazaras.

Ashura, on the 10th day of the month of Muharram, celebrates the martyrdom of Hussein, one of the grandsons of the Prophet Mohammad, and is marked by large public commemorations by Shi’ite Muslims.

President Ashraf Ghani condemned Friday’s attack and said it would not break the unity between religions in Afghanistan.

But at a time when rivalry between the patchwork of different ethnic groups in the country has increasingly come into the open, Rahmani said the evident objective of the attacks was to ratchet up the tensions to create instability.

“In the past, there were warnings that there were groups that wanted to stir ethnic and religious conflict among Afghans but now it is reality,” Rahmani said. “There are people who want to create disunity among ethnic and religious groups,” he said.

(Reporting by Mirwais Harooni and James Mackenzie; Editing by Richard Pullin)

British police feel strain from attacks after latest London bombing

Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner chats to armed officers as she walks along the Southbank in London, Britain, September 16, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) – Two of Britain’s most senior officers said the pressure on the police forces was not sustainable after last week’s attack on a packed London train became the fifth major attack this year.

Fewer officers could make it harder to prevent future attacks and it will force difficult choices about where to put police resources, they said.

A homemade bomb engulfed a train carriage in flames at Parsons Green underground station in west London last Friday injuring 30. Cressida Dick, London’s police Commissioner, said it could have been much worse.

Britain had previously faced four deadly incidents since March which killed a total of 36 people.

“In the long run, if we continue with this level of threat, which is what people are predicting … this is not sustainable for my police service,” Dick said in an interview on LBC radio.

Six men have been arrested and four remain in custody since the Parsons Green attack.

“That was a very very dangerous bomb. It partially detonated, it had a large quantity of explosive and it was packed with shrapnel. So it could have been so much worse,” Dick said.

While the bombing at Parsons Green was not deadly, the aftermath of the attack still saw extra police on the streets and the threat level raised a notch to critical.

Interior minister Amber Rudd has announced an extra 24 million pounds ($32.55 million) of funding for counter-terrorism policing following the bombing, in addition to 707 million previously announced support for 2017/2018.

But while the government has committed to increase the overall spend on counter-terrorism by 3 billion pounds, Sara Thornton, head of National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), said that not enough of the budget would support frontline officers.

There are about 20,000 fewer officers than there were when Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives came to power in 2010 and Thornton said numbers were at levels last seen in 1985 despite a 10 percent rise in crime last year.

“Every time there’s a terror attack, we mobilize specialist officers and staff to respond but the majority of the officers and staff responding come from mainstream policing,” she wrote in a blog post on the NPCC website.

“This puts extra strain on an already stretched service.”

(Additional reporting by Elisabeth O’Leary; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Trial opens for American in Islamic State-linked police beheading plot

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) – A Massachusetts man charged with plotting to behead police officers in an effort to help Islamic State was due in court on Wednesday for the start of his trial on charges including conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism.

Federal prosecutors charge that the man, David Daoud Wright, along with his uncle and a friend, had first plotted to kill the woman who organized a 2015 “Draw Mohammed” contest in Garland, Texas. But they contend Wright’s uncle, Usamaah Abdullah Rahim, lost patience and in June 2015 told Wright and the third man that he instead planned to kill police officers.

Law enforcement had been monitoring communications between the three and overheard the threat, prosecutors said. When police approached Rahim in a Boston supermarket parking lot to question him, he drew a large knife and officers shot him dead.

Police later arrested Wright, who lived in the Boston suburb of Everett, and a third conspirator, Nicholas Rovinski. Wright has denied all wrongdoing. Rovinski last year pleaded guilty to two criminal counts of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization.

If Wright is found guilty of the charge of conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, he could face a life sentence. He is also charged with conspiracy to support a terrorist organization and obstruction of justice, allegedly for telling Rahim to destroy his phone before attacking police, as well as for attempting to destroy all information on his computer.

Prosecutors said the men initially wanted to behead New York resident Pamela Geller, who had organized the Texas event in May highlighting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, images that many Muslims consider blasphemous. Two gunmen had attacked that event, and were shot dead by police.

Geller contends her event was intended as a demonstration of the free-speech rights protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Rahim’s family have denied he had shown any signs of radicalization.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Tom Brown)