Teenager kills 17 in Crimea college shooting: Russian officials

Flowers are seen placed at a memorial by the Kremlin walls to commemorate the victims of a fatal attack on a college in the Crimean port city of Kerch, in Moscow, Russia October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

By Polina Nikolskaya and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

MOSCOW (Reuters) – At least 17 people were killed and dozens injured at a college in the Black Sea region of Crimea on Wednesday when a student went through the building shooting at fellow pupils before killing himself, Russian law enforcement officials said.

Eighteen-year-old Vladislav Roslyakov turned up at the college in the city of Kerch on Wednesday afternoon carrying a firearm and then began shooting, investigators said. His body was later found in the college with what they said were self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

There were no immediate clues as to his motive in mounting such an attack, which recalled similar shooting sprees carried out by students in U.S. schools.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, prompting international condemnation and Western sanctions, but since then there have been no major outbreaks of violence there.

Many of the victims from Wednesday’s attacks were teenage students who suffered shrapnel and bullet wounds.

Pupils and staff described scenes of mayhem as panicked pupils tried to flee the building. They said the attack had started with an explosion, followed by more blasts, and a hail of gunfire.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, at a meeting in the southern Russian resort of Sochi with his Egyptian counterpart, declared a moment’s silence for the victims.

“This is a clearly a crime,” he said. “The motives will be carefully investigated.”

“CHILDREN’S BODIES EVERYWHERE”

The director of the school, Olga Grebennikova, described the scene that she encountered when she entered the college building after the attack.

“There are bodies everywhere, children’s bodies everywhere. It was a real act of terrorism. They burst in five or 10 minutes after I’d left. They blew up everything in the hall, glass was flying,” Grebennikova told Crimean media outlets.

Law enforcement officers gather at the scene of a fatal attack on a college in the port city of Kerch, Crimea October 17, 2018. Ekaterina Kejzo/Courtesy of Kerch.FM/Handout via REUTERS TV

Law enforcement officers gather at the scene of a fatal attack on a college in the port city of Kerch, Crimea October 17, 2018. Ekaterina Kejzo/Courtesy of Kerch.FM/Handout via REUTERS TV

“They then ran about throwing some kind of explosives around, and then ran around the second floor with guns, opened the office doors, and killed anyone they could find.”

Soon after the attack, Russian officials said they were investigating the possibility that it was terrorism. Troops with armored personnel carriers were sent to the scene. Local parents were told to collect their children from the city’s schools and kindergartens for their safety.

However, the Investigative Committee, the state body that investigates major crimes, said later that it was re-classifying the case from terrorism to mass murder.

Officials had previously given the death toll as 18, but the Committee revised that to 17 killed. An employee at Kerch’s hospital said dozens of people were being treated for their injuries in the emergency room and in the operating theater.

Anastasia Yenshina, a 15-year-old student at the college, said she was in a toilet on the ground floor of the building with some friends when she heard the sound of an explosion.

“I came out and there was dust and smoke, I couldn’t understand, I’d been deafened,” she told Reuters. “Everyone started running. I did not know what to do. Then they told us to leave the building through the gymnasium.”

“Everyone ran there… I saw a girl lying there. There was a child who was being helped to walk because he could not move on his own. The wall was covered in blood. Then everyone started to climb over the fence, and we could still hear explosions. Everyone was scared. People were crying.”

Photographs from the scene of the blast showed that the ground floor windows of the two-story building had been blown out, and that debris was lying on the floor outside.

Emergency services teams could be seen in the photographs carrying wounded people from the building on makeshift stretchers and loading them on to buses and ambulances.

A second pupil at the college, who gave his name as Sergei, said he had taken a few steps out of the building into the street when the first blast went off. He was hit by debris from the blast and injured in the leg.

Sergei, 15, told Reuters he ran to another building but said he could hear more explosions going off every few seconds. He took cover and after the attack was over, he was taken to hospital in an ambulance.

“I arrived at the hospital, the scene there was awful. They’re bringing in people all covered in blood, some with arms missing, some with legs missing.”

(Reporting by Moscow newsroom; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Utah man confessed sending letters in ricin scare: court documents

FBI and law enforcement officers in hazmat suites prepare to enter a house, which FBI says was investigating "potentially hazardous chemicals" in Logan, Utah, U.S., October 3, 2018. REUTERS/George Frey

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – A 39-year-old U.S. Navy veteran has confessed to sending letters to U.S. President Donald Trump and other senior officials that were initially feared to contain the poison ricin when they were discovered this week, court documents showed.

William Clyde Allen III appears in a booking photo provided by Davis County Sheriff in Utah, U.S. October 3, 2018. David Country Sheriff/Handout via REUTERS

William Clyde Allen III appears in a booking photo provided by Davis County Sheriff in Utah, U.S. October 3, 2018. David Country Sheriff/Handout via REUTERS

William Clyde Allen III was arrested on Wednesday at his home in Logan, Utah, and will be charged on Friday, said Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Aside from Trump, Allen is believed to have sent the letters containing ground castor seeds to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson, according to a probable cause statement filed in Utah state court on Wednesday.

Allen mailed the envelopes on Sept. 24, the statement said.

The letters were intercepted and no one was hurt, authorities said. The letter addressed to Trump never entered the White House, the U.S. Secret Service has said.

Ricin is found naturally in castor seeds but it takes a deliberate act to convert the seeds into a biological weapon. Ricin can cause death within 36 to 72 hours of exposure to an amount as small as a pinhead. No known antidote exists.

The probable cause statement did not list a motive in the case. It was filed by an officer with the Utah State Bureau of Investigation and listed Allen’s alleged offense as the threat of terrorism.

It was not clear if Allen has obtained an attorney. He was ordered held in jail on bail of $25,000.

Allen served in the U.S. Navy from October 1998 until October 2002, leaving the service as a seaman apprentice, the second-lowest rank, according to the U.S. Navy Office of Information.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Lisa Shumaker)

‘Lives torn apart in 82 seconds’, UK Westminster attack inquest hears

FILE PHOTO: A woman assists an injured person after an incident on Westminster Bridge in London, Britain, March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File photo

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) – A man who mowed down pedestrians with a car near Britain’s parliament before stabbing a policeman ruined many lives in a matter of seconds, an inquest heard on Monday, as it began with tributes to the victims and details of their last moments.

On March 22, 2017, Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old British-born convert to Islam, drove along a pavement on Westminster Bridge, killing four people, before stabbing to death an unarmed police officer in the grounds of parliament. He was shot dead at the scene.

It was the first of five attacks in Britain last year that police blamed on terrorism, and coroner Mark Lucraft said the attack had lasted less than two minutes.

“The lives of many were torn apart by 82 seconds of high and terrible drama,” he told the inquiry.

The inquest, which is expected to last several weeks, will seek to establish the circumstances around the deaths of the four pedestrians and the police officer, Lucraft said.

A separate inquiry into Masood’s death will be held later.

The coroner held a minute’s silence before hearing testimonials to the victims, and a colleague of the policeman, Keith Palmer, paid tribute to his courage.

“Keith was that brave person who would stand his ground,” Police Constable Shaun Cartwright said in a statement that was read to the court. “I’m immensely proud to have called Keith my friend.”

INSTINCTIVE COURAGE

Two of those killed by Masood’s rental car, American Kurt Cochran and Romanian Andreea Cristea, were tourists visiting London with their partners.

Stills from closed-circuit TV footage showed Cochran pushing his wife Melissa out of the way of the oncoming vehicle, in what was “apparently an act of instinctive courage”, the inquiry’s lawyer Jonathan Hough said.

Melissa sustained serious injuries but survived, and said in a statement read by her sister Angela Stoll that her husband’s “heroic actions that fateful day … saved my life”.

In testimony from Metropolitan Police officer John Crossley, the inquiry heard that Masood’s car may have reached 41 miles (66 km) per hour as it drove along the sidewalk.

“It is my belief that Masood acted alone,” he told the court. “He was deliberately targeting pedestrians.”

Several of the victims’ relatives temporarily left the court while CCTV footage of the attack was played, after Lucraft warned that the images would be distressing.

Leslie Rhodes, a retired window cleaner, died after being dragged under the car for over 30 meters, the court heard, while Aysha Frade was walking with her back to the car when it knocked her under a bus.

Her husband John said she had been worried about security after her office moved to the area, but her family had tried to reassure her.

“It causes myself … excruciating pain to think of Aysha in the past tense,” he told the inquiry. “In truth, it still doesn’t feel like she has gone.”

(Reporting by Alistair Smout)

Stopped from joining Islamic State fiance in Syria, teen planned London attack

Rizlaine Boular, aged 22 and sister of Safaa Boular, who has pleaded guilty to preparation of terrorist acts, can be seen in this undated Metropolitan Police handout photograph in London, Britain, June 4, 2018. Metropolitan Police/Handout via REUTERS

LONDON (Reuters) – A London teenager who wanted to attack the British Museum with grenades and firearms after she was prevented from traveling to Syria to marry an Islamic State militant was convicted on Monday of planning acts of terrorism.

Safaa Boular, now 18, had started chatting online to fighter Naweed Husain when she was 16. She had decided to join him in Syria so they could marry, then carry out a suicide attack there while holding hands.

Husain had sent Boular’s older sister, Rizlaine Boular, 3,000 pounds ($4,000) to pay for Safaa’s travel arrangements, but the sisters were arrested in August 2016. They were released on bail but had their passport confiscated.

Safaa Boular continued chatting to Husain, and the pair discussed plans for her to attack the British Museum, one of central London’s top attractions for visitors, with what she called “pineapples” – grenades.

“Safaa Boular’s intention was to cause serious injury and death,” said Sue Hemming of the Crown Prosecution Service.

After Husain was killed in Syria on April 4, 2017, Boular wrote that she wanted to be granted “martyrdom”.

“My heart yearns … to be reunited with my dear husband for the very first time,” she wrote.

Instead, she was arrested eight days later, but her sister Rizlaine took on the planning of an attack on targets in central London, supported by the young women’s mother Mina Dich.

The mother and daughter went on a reconnaissance visit to major landmarks in Westminster on April 25, 2017, and the following day they bought knives from a supermarket. They were arrested a day later.

Rizlaine Boular, 22, and Dich, 44, both pleaded guilty in February to planning acts of terrorism. Their pleas could not previously be reported because of the risk of prejudice to Safaa Boular’s trial by jury.

The trio will be sentenced at a later date.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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)