In first for Europe, Iran envoy sentenced to 20-year prison term over bomb plot

By Clement Rossignol and Robin Emmott

ANTWERP, Belgium (Reuters) – An Iranian diplomat accused of planning to bomb a meeting of an exiled opposition group was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Thursday in the first trial of an Iranian official for suspected terrorism in Europe since Iran’s 1979 revolution.

Assadolah Assadi was found guilty of attempted terrorism after a foiled plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) near Paris in June 2018, Belgian prosecution lawyers and civil parties to the prosecution said.

The third counsellor at Iran’s embassy in Vienna, he was arrested in Germany before being transferred to Belgium for trial. French officials said he was running an Iranian state intelligence network and was acting on orders from Tehran.

Assadi did not attend his hearings, which were held behind closed doors under high security, and neither he nor his lawyer have commented.

In March, Assadi warned authorities of possible retaliation by unidentified groups if he was found guilty, according to a police document obtained by Reuters. The courtroom was heavily guarded, with armored vehicles outside and police helicopters overhead.

In a statement carried by Iranian state television, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said: “Unfortunately, Belgium and some European countries, under the influence of the hostile atmosphere of a terrorist group, have taken such an illegal and unjustifiable action.

“Therefore,” he said, “they must be held accountable for the gross violation of the rights of our country’s diplomats.”

Prosecution lawyer Georges-Henri Beauthier said outside the court in Antwerp: “The ruling shows two things: A diplomat doesn’t have immunity for criminal acts…and the responsibility of the Iranian state in what could have been carnage.”

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Investigators assessed that Assadi brought the explosives for the plot with him on a commercial flight to Austria from Iran, according to Belgium’s federal prosecutor.

Then-U.S. President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani gave the keynote address at the rally, which was attended by diplomats from many countries.

The ruling came at a sensitive time for Western relations with Iran. New U.S. President Joe Biden is considering whether to lift economic sanctions on Iran re-imposed by Trump and rejoin fellow world powers in the historic 2015 accord with the Islamic Republic aimed at containing its nuclear program.

While the European Union has imposed human rights sanctions on Iranian individuals, Brussels has sought closer diplomatic and business ties with Tehran.

But it says it cannot turn a blind eye to terrorism, including the two killings in the Netherlands and a failed assassination attempt in Denmark, blamed on Iran.

“This case is not an aberration but rather is part of a pattern of the Islamic Republic’s terrorism in Europe and around the world,” said Toby Dershowitz at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan think-tank in Washington D.C.

Three other Iranians were sentenced in the trial for their role as accomplices, with 15-, 17- and 18-year sentences handed down respectively by three judges who did not comment on Thursday. One of their lawyers said he would recommend an appeal, although it was not clear if Assadi would do so.

In an interview with Reuters, NCRI chief Maryam Rajavi called the ruling a turning point as it proved Iran was carrying out state-sponsored terrorism. She said the EU could not stand by without reacting even if some in the 27-nation bloc were pushing for more dialogue with Tehran.

“Silence and inaction would be the worst policy and embolden the regime in its behavior,” she said, speaking through an interpreter, calling for EU sanctions on key officials, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who heads up nuclear diplomacy with the major powers.

“The European Union and governments must hold the regime accountable,” Rajavi said.

The EU declined to comment. French officials did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The Islamic Republic has repeatedly dismissed the charges, calling the attack allegations a “false flag” stunt by the NCRI, which it considers a terrorist group.

(Reporting by Clement Rossignol in Antwerp and Robin Emmott in Brussels with additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Editing by Marine Strauss, Philippa Fletcher and Mark Heinrich)

Trump returns Cuba to U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism

By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Monday announced it was returning Cuba to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Cuba was being blacklisted for “repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism” by harboring U.S. fugitives as well as Colombian rebel leaders.

Pompeo also cited Communist-ruled Cuba’s security support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, which he said had allowed the socialist leader to create “a permissive environment for international terrorists to live and thrive within Venezuela.”

“With this action, we will once again hold Cuba’s government accountable and send a clear message: the Castro regime must end its support for international terrorism and subversion of U.S. justice,” Pompeo said in a statement.

The terrorism list decision followed months of legal review, with some administration experts questioning whether it was justified, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Trump has clamped down on Cuba since coming to power in 2017, tightening restrictions on U.S. travel and remittances to Cuba, and imposing sanctions on shipments of Venezuelan oil to the island.

Trump’s hardline Cuba policy was popular among the large Cuban-American population in South Florida.

Syria, Iran and North Korea are other countries on the list.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick, additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Washinton and Sarah Marsh in Havana; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)

Man admits killing three in UK stabbing spree: BBC

LONDON (Reuters) – A man has admitted killing three people during a stabbing spree in the southern English town of Reading in June, the BBC reported on Wednesday, an attack police declared a terrorism incident.

Khairi Saadallah, 26, was accused of murdering the men and stabbing three others with a five-inch knife during the attack in a park in the town on the evening of June 20.

The BBC said Saadallah, who a security source told Reuters at the time of the incident was a Libyan national, had admitted murder and attempted murder at a hearing at London’s Old Bailey Central Criminal Court.

However, while the prosecution said the attack was a pre-meditated terrorism attack, his defense team did not accept that and said his mental health needed to be taken into account, the BBC reported.

Saadallah had targeted a group of seven friends, stabbing three fatally – James Furlong, 36, and David Wails, 49, from Britain and U.S. national Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39.

Another of the group required 28 stitches to a head wound. Two other men who were sitting with friends nearby were also stabbed, one in the back while the other suffered a cut to his cheek.

An off-duty police officer who was at the scene followed the attacker from the park and he was arrested nearby.

Earlier this month, the terrorism threat level in Britain was raised to “severe,” meaning an attack is seen as highly likely, after recent incidents in France and Austria, although the government said there was no specific threat.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison)

Terrorism threat level in Britain raised to ‘severe’

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s terrorism threat level has been raised to ‘severe’ as a precaution following attacks in France and Austria, interior minister Priti Patel said on Tuesday.

The change, which means an attack is now seen as highly likely, comes the day after a gunman in Vienna identified as a convicted jihadist killed four people in a rampage overnight. France has also suffered three attacks in recent weeks.

“This is a precautionary measure following the terrible instances that we’ve seen in France last week, and the events that we saw in Austria last night,” Patel said in a televised statement

She said the public should not be alarmed and that the change in threat level was not based on any specific threat.

The new threat level means an attack is highly likely, according to the government’s classification system. The previous ‘substantial’ level meant an attack was likely.

Britain’s threat level is assessed by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre which is accountable to the domestic intelligence agency MI5 and made up of representatives from 16 government departments and agencies.

(Reporting by William James and David Milliken; editing by Stephen Addison)

Spain sentences Salvadoran ex-officer to 133 years in jail over priests’ massacre

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s High Court sentenced a former army colonel from El Salvador on Friday to 133 years in prison for the murder of five Spanish Jesuit priests in 1989 during the Central American country’s civil war.

Inocente Orlando Montano Morales, 77, was also found responsible by the judges for the murders of the priests’ housekeeper and her 15-year-old daughter, as well as a local Jesuit priest. The court could not convict him of these crimes because his extradition to Spain did not cover these cases.

The massacre was one of the most notorious acts of a decade-long civil war during which 75,000 people were killed and 8,000 went missing.

The judges said they found Montano Morales guilty of five counts of “murder of terrorist nature,” adding that the killings were committed by the state apparatus, making them what “is commonly known as terrorism implemented by the state”.

They added that the total maximum prison term is 30 years.

Montano Morales has been in custody since 2011 when he was arrested in the United States on immigration fraud charges. He was deported to Spain in 2017.

The Spanish government has indicted 20 former Salvadoran army officers for the killings of the priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. One of the priests, Father Ignacio Ellacuria, was a prominent critic of the U.S.-backed right-wing government.

The massacre occurred on Nov. 16, 1989, when a group of soldiers from the U.S.-trained Atlacatl Battalion entered the campus of the Central American University where Ellacuria was rector.

Ellacuria had advocated a negotiated settlement to the military-led junta government’s war against the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). International revulsion at the murders of the priests helped to push through such a solution, with the war ending in 1992.

(Reporting by Nathan Allen and Andrei Khalip; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Frances Kerry)

Factbox: What China’s tougher national security regime could mean for Hong Kong

By Greg Torode and James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s parliament has approved a decision to go forward with national security legislation on Hong Kong to tackle secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in a city roiled by anti-government protests.

The move is seen as a turning point, as leaders of the ruling Communist Party tighten control over China’s freest international city, undermining its reputation as a financial hub with substantial autonomy and an independent legal system.

U.S. reaction was swift, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo telling Congress that Hong Kong no longer qualified for special status under U.S. law, potentially dealing a crushing blow to its status as a global financial center.

WHAT DOES CHINA WANT?

Greater control and a sense of security. For several years, Chinese officials have expressed increasing frustration and anger over what they see as a weak national security regime in the city.

Last year’s large and sometimes violent anti-government protests have sharpened that frustration, with China determined to thwart what it calls threats of terrorism, independence, subversion of state power, and interference by foreign forces.

SO WHAT WILL HAPPEN?

Having been approved by parliament, the legislation will be grafted into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution without any local legislative scrutiny, as has been past practice.

Details of the law are expected to be drawn up in coming weeks. It is expected to be enacted before September.

China says Hong Kong has failed to implement national security laws on its own as stipulated in the city’s mini-constitution under the terms of its 1997 handover from Britain.

WHAT REMAINS UNCLEAR?

Hong Kong lawyers are puzzled over how the imposed provisions will work in practice.

Questions include whether all protections already in the Basic Law apply and whether locally based mainland agents have enforcement power.

Another issue is whether the standing committee of the National People’s Congress has extra powers to ultimately interpret Hong Kong court rulings on national security.

“There are suddenly a lot more questions than answers and it is not even clear whether anyone in the Hong Kong government is standing up internally against these changes,” one legal scholar said.

China also said its intelligence agencies would have the right to set up offices in Hong Kong to “safeguard national security”. It is not clear, however, whether they will carry out enforcement activities, a critical concern.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING NOW?

The issue sits at the heart of the “one country, two systems” formula under which China agreed to protect Hong Kong’s extensive freedoms, its high degree of autonomy and its independent legal system until 2047.

Those freedoms are protected by the Basic Law, which guides the relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing.

But Article 23 of the document also says Hong Kong must “on its own” enact laws against treason, secession, sedition, subversion and the theft of state secrets. It also seeks to outlaw ties between local and foreign political groups.

The Hong Kong government proposed such local legislation in 2003 but encountered vast opposition, with more than 500,000 people marching peacefully against it.

However, the Basic Law also gives Beijing the power to annex national laws into the document – which the Hong Kong government must then legislate for or effectively impose by executive fiat.

Hong Kong lawyers and politicians sometimes call this the “nuclear option”, but some scholars have questioned whether this power of promulgation applies to Article 23.

DO ANY SUCH LAWS ALREADY EXIST?

Yes. Britain left behind a raft of old laws covering most of the elements of Article 23, aside from subversion and secession – the act of formally withdrawing from a state.

Most are decades old and lawyers say they would be hard to deploy, given more recent protections on freedoms of speech, assembly and association written into the city’s Bill of Rights and the Basic Law itself.

IS IT CONTROVERSIAL?

Highly. Given Hong Kong’s protest movements and polarised politics, a fresh push even for local legislation would be tough.

Many fear that new national security legislation would prove a “dead hand” on the city’s large and pugnacious press and rich artistic traditions, while curbing its broad political debates.

Any step by Beijing to impose its own version via promulgation risks panic and chaos, many observers believe, potentially sparking a flight of people and capital and denting Hong Kong’s international financial role.

(Editing by Stephen Coates)

China’s new coronavirus cases drop, world still scared

By Ryan Woo and John Geddie

BEIJING/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – China reported on Wednesday its lowest number of new coronavirus cases in two weeks, bolstering a forecast by Beijing’s senior medical adviser for the outbreak in the country to end by April – but fears of further international spread remained.

The 2,015 new confirmed cases took China’s total to 44,653. That was the lowest daily rise since Jan. 30 and came a day after epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan said the epidemic should peak in China this month before subsiding.

His comments gave some balm to public fears and to markets, where global stocks surged to record highs on hopes of an end to disruption in the world’s second largest economy.

But the World Health Organization (WHO) has likened the epidemic’s threat to terrorism and one expert said that while it may be peaking in China, this was not the case beyond.

A man wearing a face mask rides a subway, following an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Beijing, China February 12, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

“It has spread to other places where it’s the beginning of the outbreak,” Dale Fisher, head of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network coordinated by the WHO, said in an interview in Singapore. “In Singapore, we are at the beginning.”

Singapore has 50 cases, including one found at its biggest bank, DBS <DBSM.SI>, on Wednesday that caused an evacuation at head office.

Hundreds of infections have been reported in dozens of other countries and territories, but only two people have died outside mainland China: one in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines.

China’s latest figures also showed that the number of deaths on the mainland rose by 97 to 1,113 by the end of Tuesday.

But doubts have been aired on social media about how reliable the data is, after the government last week amended guidelines on classification.

 

QUARANTINED CRUISES

The biggest cluster outside China is on a cruise ship quarantined off Japan’s Yokohama port, with about 3,700 people on board, of whom 175 have tested positive.

There was a happy ending in sight for another cruise ship, the MS Westerdam, which Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Guam and the Philippines had refused to let dock over fears one of its 1,455 passengers and 802 crew may have the virus.

Cambodia finally agreed to let it land, the Holland America Line said. Passengers have been whiling away time playing chess and doing puzzles.

“The staff has tried to bolster spirits but you can only play so many games of trivia,” American passenger Angela Jones told Reuters in a video. “I’ve asked others who say they are napping a lot”.

China’s state news agency Xinhua called the epidemic a “battle that has no gunpowder smoke” and chided some officials for “dropping the ball” in some places.

There was no lack of zeal, however, in the city of Chongqing where prosecutors brought charges against a man who strapped on firecrackers, doused himself with gasoline and held up a lighter to defy a ban on public gatherings.

He had planned a birthday banquet, Xinhua said.

The outbreak has been named COVID-19 – CO for corona, VI for virus, D for disease and 19 for the year that it emerged. It is suspected to have originated in a market illegally trading wildlife in Hubei province’s capital of Wuhan in December.

The city of 11 million people remains under virtual lockdown as part of China’s unprecedented measures to seal infected regions and limit transmission routes.

‘RACIST REPORTING’?

Moves by Washington and others to curb visitors from China have offended Beijing, which says they are an over-reaction.

Anti-Chinese sentiment has also reared on social media.

A Xinhua commentary chided some Western media for “racist reporting” on the coronavirus and ignoring “the unswerving efforts and huge sacrifice China and its people have made”.

“Just as the H1N1 influenza outbreak in the United States in 2009 should not be called an ‘American virus’, the NCP (novel coronavirus pneumonia) is neither a ‘China virus’ nor ‘Wuhan virus’,” it said, in a reference to the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

With companies laying off workers and supply chains disrupted from the car industry to smartphones, China’s economy is taking a big hit. ANZ Bank said first quarter growth may slow to between 3.2-4.0%, down from a projection of 5.0%.

However, the troubles were also triggering innovation.

One company in southwestern China built a tunnel to spray employees with disinfectant, while a steamed bun shop in Beijing is using a wooden board to serve customers and avoid contact.

The latest big event to be cancelled was Formula One’s Chinese Grand Prix, originally set for Shanghai on April 19.

Organisers of a global mobile conference in Barcelona were also mulling whether to pull the plug, two sources said, after several European telecom companies pulled out due to the coronavirus.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Huizhong Wu, Stella Qiu, Judy Hua, Kevin Yao, Zhang Min, Dominique Patton, Se Young Lee, Gabriel Crossley, Colin Qian, Roxanne Liu in Beijing; Brenda Goh, Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; Keith Zhai and John Geddie in Singapore; Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge in Geneva; Kay Johnson in Baghdad; Abhishek Takle in Baku; Isla Binnie in Madrid; Writing by Robert Birsel and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Timothy Heritage and Alex Richardson)

Ukraine wants to search Iran plane crash site for possible missile debris

By Alexander Cornwell, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Natalia Zinets

DUBAI/KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine outlined four potential scenarios on Thursday to explain the deadly crash of one of its airliners in Iran, including a missile strike and terrorism, as Iranian investigators said the plane was on fire before it fell to the ground.

Kiev said its investigators wanted to search the site of Wednesday’s crash southwest of Tehran for possible debris of a Russian-made missile used by Iran’s military. An initial report by Iran’s civil aviation organization said the plane had experienced an unspecified technical problem.

The Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737-800, flying to Kiev and carrying mostly Iranians and Iranian-Canadians, crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport, killing all 176 people on board.

The Iranian report cited witnesses on the ground and in a passing aircraft flying at a high altitude as saying the plane was on fire while in the air.

It said the three-year-old airliner, which had its last scheduled maintenance on Monday, encountered a technical problem shortly after take-off and started to head toward a nearby airport before it crashed. The report said there was no radio communication from the pilot and that the aircraft disappeared from radar at 8,000 feet (2,440 m).

It is so far unclear if any technical issue could be related to a maintenance fault or defective part.

The disaster puts a renewed spotlight on Boeing, which faces a safety crisis over a different type of 737, though the plane that crashed in Iran does not have the feature thought to have caused crashes of the grounded 737 MAX.

The Iranian report referred to the crash as an accident.

Investigations into airliner crashes are complex, requiring regulators, experts and companies across several international jurisdictions to work together. It can take months to fully determine the cause and issuing an initial report within 24 hours is rare.

A Canadian security source told Reuters there was evidence one of the engines had overheated.

The crash happened hours after Iran launched missile attacks on U.S.-led forces in Iraq, leading some to speculate that the plane may have been hit.

The initial assessment of Western intelligence agencies was that the plane had suffered a technical malfunction and had not been brought down by a missile, five security sources – three Americans, one European and the Canadian – who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

UKRAINIAN THEORIES

Ukraine Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danylov said the country’s investigators wanted to search for possible Russian missile debris after seeing information on the internet.

He referred to an unverified image circulated on Iranian social media purportedly showing the debris of a Russian-made Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile of the kind used by the Iranian military.

Ukrainian investigators into the crash include experts who participated in the investigation into the 2014 shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, Danylov said.

The Malaysian airliner was shot down on July 17, 2014, over territory held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board.

In a televised statement, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy earlier asked people to refrain from speculation, conspiracy theories and hasty evaluations regarding the crash. He declared Thursday a day of national mourning.

Zelenskiy said he would speak by telephone with the Iranian president to step up cooperation in investigating the crash.

Ukraine is looking at various possible causes, including a missile attack, a collision, an engine explosion or terrorism.

Countries recognized under a UN-administered convention as participants should nominate who they wish to be involved in the Iran-led investigation, the Iranian report said.

Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne called his Iranian counterpart to stress the need for Canadian officials “to be quickly granted access to Iran to provide consular services, help with identification of the deceased and take part in the investigation of the crash”, a Canadian statement said.

“Canada and Canadians have many questions which will need to be answered.”

Britain wants a transparent investigation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said on Thursday following a call between the British leader and Zelenskiy.

“The prime minister said that there needed to be a full credible and transparent investigation into what happened,” the spokesman said.

As the country where the plane was designed and built, the United States would usually be allowed to be accredited but neither side has said whether U.S. investigators will be dispatched to Iran.

Iran’s aviation body could not be reached for comment to clarify its position.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have risen with the United States’ killing of a top Iranian general on Friday. Tehran retaliated with a missile strike on U.S. targets in Iraq.

The Ukrainian airliner took off at 6:12 a.m. local time and was given permission to climb to 26,000 feet, the report said. It crashed six minutes later near the town of Sabashahr.

Bodies and body parts recovered from the site of the crash have been taken to the coroner’s office for identification, the report said.

Smouldering debris, including shoes and clothes, was strewn across a field where the plane crashed on Wednesday. Rescue workers in face masks laid out scores of body bags.

Onboard were 146 Iranians, 10 Afghans, 11 Ukrainians, five Canadians and four Swedes, the report said, but said some may have held citizenship of other countries.

Ukrainian authorities have said those on board included 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, and 11 Ukrainians.

The Tehran-Toronto via Kiev route was a popular for Canadians of Iranian descent visiting Iran in the absence of direct flights.

(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell & Babak Dehghanpisheh in Dubai, Natalia Zinets & Pavel Polityuk in Kiev; Additional reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris, Jamie Freed in Sydney, Allison Lampert in Montreal, Steve Scherer in Ottawa, Laurence Frost in Paris, Matthias Williams in Kiev, Mark Hosenball in Washington and David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Elizabeth Piper in London; Writing by Alexander Cornwell, Editing by Angus MacSwan, Catherine Evans and Nick Macfie)

Pressure mounts on FBI for answers on Florida naval base shooting

By Brad Brooks

PENSACOLA, Fla. (Reuters) – U.S. investigators face mounting pressure on Monday to deliver answers on the motive that led a Saudi Air Force lieutenant to shoot and kill three people and wounded eight others at a U.S. Navy base in Pensacola, Florida.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, speaking at a Sunday evening press conference, said he was sure the gunman carried out an act of terrorism. He questioned whether it could have been prevented by better vetting of foreign military officers who train in the United States.

“There is a lot of frustration in our state over this,” DeSantis said. “You have foreign military personnel coming to our base. They should not be doing that if they hate our country.”

The FBI said it thinks that the shooter, Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, acted alone when he opened fire inside a classroom at the base early on Friday morning.

The bureau said it was not ruling out labeling the violence as an act of terrorism, but that it still had many people to interview on Monday and was still collecting evidence at what it called an active crime scene.

The New York Times reported late Sunday that it had reviewed an official complaint Alshamrani lodged in April against an instructor at the base who had made derogatory comments about his appearance, but that there was no apparent connection between that incident and the shooting.

The FBI confirmed on Sunday that Alshamrani had legally purchased somewhere in Florida the Glock 9mm pistol he used in the shooting. DeSantis said he was able to buy the firearm because of a “federal loophole” in gun laws that allow nonimmigrant foreign nationals to purchase weapons for an array of reasons, including if they simply have a hunting license.

“I’m big supporter of the Second Amendment, but it’s so Americans can keep and bear arms, not Saudi Arabians,” the governor told reporters.

Alshamrani was on the base as part of a U.S. Navy training program designed to foster links with foreign allies. He had started training in the United States in 2017 and had been in the Pensacola area for the past 18 months, authorities said.

His fellow Saudi students were speaking directly with American investigators and were restricted to the base on order of the Saudi military, Rojas said.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks)

Police treat stabbings at UK shopping mall as terrorism incident

By Peter Powell

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – British police said five people had been injured after a man lunged at passers-by with a large knife in a shopping center in northern England on Friday in a “brutal” attack officers were treating as terrorism.

The man attacked people around him and chased two unarmed officers shortly after entering Manchester’s Arndale shopping center in the heart of the city at about 11.15 a.m. (1015 GMT), police said.

He was overpowered by armed officers, with pictures on social media showing them using a stun gun to detain him. The man, in his 40s, was arrested on suspicion of terrorism although police said his motivation was not yet clear.

“He was armed with a large knife and … he began lunging and attacking people with the knife,” Assistant Chief Constable Russ Jackson told reporters.

“Two unarmed police community support officers … attempted to confront the attacker. He then chased them with a knife as they were calling for urgent assistance. The man attacked people around him and we understand five people were injured by him.”

Earlier, police said three people had suffered stab wounds; two women, one aged 19, and a man aged in his 50s. Jackson said the injuries were “nasty” but none had suffered life-threatening wounds.

“We do not know the motivation for this terrible attack, it appears random – it’s certainly brutal and of course extremely frightening for anyone who witnessed it,” Jackson said.

“We have the man we believe to be the attacker safely in custody. We will now be working to understand why he committed this awful attack.”

Britain has long been at a high state of alert and is currently at its second highest threat level, meaning an attack is considered highly likely.

Manchester was the location for Britain’s most deadly attack in recent years when Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old Briton born to Libyan parents, killed 22 people in May 2017 when he blew himself up at the end of a pop concert by Ariana Grande at the Manchester Arena, not far from the Arndale center.

Islamic State said it was responsible in the immediate aftermath of that bombing, but security services have always treated the claim with scepticism. Abedi’s brother, who is suspected of involvement, was extradited from Libya in July.

“This is bound to bring back memories of the awful events of 2017,” Jackson said. “At this time we do not believe there was anyone else involved in this attack but we will constantly be keeping this under review.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter: “Shocked by the incident in Manchester and my thoughts are with the injured and all those affected.”

(Reporting by Michael Holden, James Davey, Costas Pitas and William Schomberg; editing by Stephen Addison)