Netanyahu says Israel, India both face threat from radical Islam

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

By Sanjeev Miglani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putin says St. Petersburg supermarket bombing was terrorism

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

By Andrew Osborn and Denis Pinchuk

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

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

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

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

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

No group has claimed responsibility.

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

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

“ACT DECISIVELY”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Melanie Burton and Byron Kaye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

By Joseph Ax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South Korea conducts anti-terror drills ahead of Winter Games

South Korea conducts anti-terror drills ahead of Winter Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Explosion rocks New York commuter hub, one suspect in custody

Police and fire crews block off the streets near the New York Port Authority in New York City, U.S. December 11, 2017 after reports of an explosion.

NEW YORK (Reuters) – An explosion rocked New York’s Port Authority, one of the city’s busiest commuter hubs, on Monday morning and police said one suspect was injured and in custody but that no-one else was hurt in the rush-hour incident.

Police confirmed one person was in custody but were not yet identifying the device used. Local news channel WABC cited police sources as saying a possible pipe bomb detonated in a passageway below ground at Port Authority and WPIX cited sources as saying a man with a “possible second device” has been detained in the subway tunnel.

The bus terminal was temporarily closed, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said in a Twitter statement.

“There was a stampede up the stairs to get out,” said Diego Fernandez, one of the commuters at Port Authority. “Everybody was scared and running and shouting.”

Commuters exit the New York Port Authority in New York City, U.S. December 11, 2017 after reports of an explosion.

Commuters exit the New York Port Authority in New York City, U.S. December 11, 2017 after reports of an explosion. REUTERS/Edward Tobin

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and President Donald Trump have been briefed on the incident, according to local media and the White House.

News of the incident jarred financial markets as trading was getting underway for the week. Standard  Poor’s 500 index emini futures pared gains, the dollar weakened against the yen and U.S. Treasury securities prices gained on a modest flight-to-safety bid.

The incident occurred less than two months after an Uzbek immigrant killed eight people by speeding a rental truck down a New York City bike path, in an attack for which Islamic State claimed responsibility.

In September 2016, a man injured more than two dozen people when he set off a homemade bomb in New York’s Chelsea district.

(Reporting By Nick Zieminski and Simon Webb in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Pro-Kurdish opposition leader goes on trial in Turkey on terrorism-related charges

Pro-Kurdish opposition leader goes on trial in Turkey on terrorism-related charges

By Ece Toksabay

ANKARA (Reuters) – The jailed leader of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition went on trial on Thursday, 13 months after his arrest on terrorism-related charges, facing up to 142 years in prison in a case closely watched by rights groups and Western governments.

Selahattin Demirtas, the co-leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was not allowed to appear in court for security reasons and refused to take part via video link. A state prosecutor demanded he remain in jail during the trial.

A former human rights lawyer, Demirtas was arrested on Nov. 4 last year, one of more than a dozen HDP lawmakers who were arrested in a crackdown following last year’s attempted coup.

A crowd of several hundred gathered to show support for Demirtas in snowy weather outside the court near the capital Ankara. They joined hands and danced around small fires, singing songs in Kurdish. “Demirtas is our honor,” they chanted.

Demirtas and other detained HDP members are mostly accused of links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, which has conducted a decades-old insurgency in which 40,000 people have been killed. The group is deemed a terrorist organization by the United States, Turkey and Europe. All of the accused deny the charges.

The HDP is the third-largest party in Turkey’s parliament. The party’s other co-leader, Figen Yuksekdag, also jailed pending trial on terrorism charges, was remanded in custody by an Ankara court on Wednesday.

PROTESTS BANNED

Demirtas is held in a jail in the northwestern city of Edirne. The case was to be held within the city of Ankara itself but was moved to the Sincan prison complex outside the capital, two days before the trial, because of security concerns.

European parliamentarians, Western diplomats and rights group representatives attended the session in the small court room with a capacity of 120 people. The HDP said 1,250 lawyers sought to defend Demirtas.

The HDP said in a statement the indictment largely consists of press releases and speeches Demirtas has made at conferences, panels and similar legal and political activities.

The charges aimed at Demirtas included “establishing a terrorist organization”, “spreading terror group propaganda” and “praising crimes and criminals”.

Authorities banned protests across Ankara province for the three days until Friday for security reasons after the HDP called for protests to mark the hearing of Demirtas and other party officials, the governor’s office said in a statement.

About 150,000 people have been sacked or suspended and roughly 50,000 people have been jailed pending trial since last year’s failed coup. Rights groups and some Western allies say Erdogan has used the putsch as an excuse to quash dissent. The HDP says as many as 5,000 of its members have been detained.

Erdogan says such measures were necessary given the danger represented by the putsch in which 250 people were killed.

(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan and Andrew Heavens)

Iraq to declare final victory over Islamic State after desert campaign

Iraq to declare final victory over Islamic State after desert campaign

By Ahmed Rasheed

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Tuesday Islamic State had been defeated from a military perspective but he would only declare final victory after IS militants were routed in the desert.

Iraqi forces on Friday captured the border town of Rawa, the last remaining town under Islamic State control, signaling the collapse of the group’s “caliphate” proclaimed after it overran much of Iraq’s north and west in 2014.

Securing desert and border areas is what remains in the campaign against Islamic State, military commanders say.

“From a military perspective, we have ended the presence of Daesh in Iraq,” Abadi said while addressing a weekly news conference, referring to Islamic State by an Arabic acronym.

“God willing we will announce very soon after the end of the purification operations victory over Daesh in Iraq.”

Abadi’s comments came as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared the end of Islamic State while a senior Iranian military commander thanked the “thousands of martyrs” killed in operations organized by Iran to defeat the militant group in Syria and Iraq.

Political disagreements will pave the way for the Sunni militant group to carry out attacks, however, Abadi said. He was referring to the central Baghdad government’s dispute with the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government over the latter’s declaration of independence following a Sept. 25 referendum.

“Any disagreement between political factions will encourage Daesh to carry out terrorist attacks,” he said. “I call on our Kurdish brothers to avoid fighting.”

Hours before Abadi spoke, at least 23 people were killed and 60 wounded when a suicide bomber set off a truck bomb near a crowded marketplace in the northern Iraqi town of Tuz Khurmatu, south of the oil city of Kirkuk.

Abadi praised a federal court verdict that ruled the Kurdish referendum unconstitutional and called on Kurds not to resort to violence.

Iraq’s Supreme Federal Court ruled on Monday that the referendum was unconstitutional and the results void, bolstering Baghdad’s hand in a stand-off with the Kurdish region watched closely by neighbouring Turkey and Iran.

“I hail the federal court’s decision to void the Kurdish region’s referendum,” he said.

Kurds voted overwhelmingly to break away from Iraq in the referendum, defying Baghdad and alarming neighboring Turkey and Iran who have their own Kurdish minorities.

The Iraqi government responded to the referendum by seizing Kurdish-held Kirkuk and other territory disputed between the Kurds and the central government. It also banned direct flights to Kurdistan and demanded control over border crossings.

(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; editing by Mark Heinrich and William Maclean)

North Korea calls terror relisting ‘serious provocation’ by Trump: state media

North Korea calls terror relisting 'serious provocation' by Trump: state media

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea denounced on Wednesday U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to relist it as a state sponsor of terrorism, calling it a “serious provocation and violent infringement”, North Korean state media reported.

Trump put North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism on Monday, a designation that allows the United States to impose more sanctions and risks inflaming tension over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.

In North Korea’s first reaction to the designation, a spokesman for the foreign ministry denied in an interview with the state media outlet KCNA, that his government engaged in any terrorism.

He called the state sponsor of terrorism label “just a tool for American style authoritarianism that can be attached or removed at any time in accordance with its interests”.

The U.S. designation only made North Korea more committed to retaining its nuclear arsenal, the official said.

“As long as the U.S. continues with its anti-DPRK hostile policy, our deterrence will be further strengthened,” he said, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The U.S. will be held entirely accountable for all the consequences to be entailed by its impudent provocation to the DPRK.”

The designation came a week after Trump returned from a 12-day, five-nation trip to Asia in which he made containing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions a centerpiece of his discussions.

Announcing the designation, Trump told reporters at the White House: “In addition to threatening the world by nuclear devastation, North Korea has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism, including assassinations on foreign soil.”

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Robert Birsel)