Egypt says attackers had Islamic State flag as mosque death toll rises

Egypt says attackers had Islamic State flag as mosque death toll rises

By Omar Fahmy

CAIRO (Reuters) – Gunmen who attacked a mosque in North Sinai were carrying an Islamic State flag, Egyptian officials said on Saturday as the state news agency reported the death toll had risen to 305, including 27 children.

Egypt’s military said they had carried out air strikes and raids overnight against militants held responsible for the killings, the bloodiest attack in Egypt’s modern history.

The attack also left 128 people injured, the MENA state news agency reported, while Egypt’s public prosecutor’s office linked it to Islamic State militants, also known as Daesh.

“They numbered between 25 and 30, carrying the Daesh flag and took up positions in front of the mosque door and its 12 windows with automatic rifles,” the prosecutor said in a statement.

The gunmen, some wearing masks and military-style uniforms, surrounded the mosque blocking windows and a doorway and opened fire inside with automatic rifles, the statement said, citing their investigation and interviews with wounded survivors.

No group has claimed responsibility, but Egyptian forces are battling a stubborn Islamic State affiliate in the region, one of the surviving branches of the militant group after it suffered defeats by U.S.-backed forces in Iraq and Syria.

“The air force has over the past few hours eliminated a number of outposts used by terrorist elements,” the army said.

Witnesses say gunmen set off a bomb at the end of Friday prayers at the Al Rawdah mosque in Bir al-Abed, west of El-Arish city, and then opened fire as worshippers tried to flee, shooting at ambulances and setting fire to cars to block roads.

Images on state media showed bloodied victims and bodies covered in blankets inside the mosque.

Striking a mosque would be a shift in tactics for the Sinai militants, who have previously attacked troops and police and more recently tried to spread their insurgency to the mainland by hitting Christian churches and pilgrims.

The massive casualties in the Sinai attack and the targeting of a mosque stunned Egyptians who have struggled through instability after the 2011 uprising ousted long-standing leader Hosni Mubarak, and the years of protests that followed.

UTMOST FORCE

Local sources said some of the worshippers were Sufis, whom groups such as Islamic State consider targets because they revere saints and shrines, which for Islamists is tantamount to idolatry. Islamic State has targeted Sufi and Shi’ite Muslims in other countries like Iraq.

The jihadists in Egypt’s Sinai have also attacked local tribes and their militias for working with the army and police.

Sisi, a former armed forces commander who supporters see as a bulwark against Islamist militants, promised the “utmost force” against those responsible for Friday’s attack. Security has been a key reason for his supporters to back him, and he is expected to run for re-election next year.

“What is happening is an attempt to stop us from our efforts in the fight against terrorism,” he said on Friday.

North Sinai, a mostly desert area which stretches from the Suez Canal eastwards to the Gaza Strip and Israel, has long been a security headache for Egypt and is a strategic region for Cairo because of its sensitive borders.

Local militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, once allied to al Qaeda, split from it and declared allegiance to Islamic State in 2014. But attacks in the Sinai worsened after 2013 when Sisi led the overthrow of President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood after mass protests against his rule.

(Writing by Patrick Markey; editing by Alexander Smith and Jeremy Gaunt)

Uzbek man charged in New York attack said he ‘felt good’ about what he did

People gather for a candlelight vigil for victims of the pickup truck attack at Foley Square in New York City, U.S., November 1, 2017

By Gina Cherelus and Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – An Uzbek immigrant accused of plowing a truck down a New York City bike path, killing eight people, told investigators he had been inspired by watching Islamic State videos and began planning the attack a year ago, according to a criminal complaint filed against him on Wednesday.

Sayfullo Saipov, 29, who was hospitalized after he was shot by a police officer and arrested, confessed to authorities that he made a trial run with a rental truck on Oct. 22 to practice turning the vehicle and “stated that he felt good about what he had done” after the attack, the complaint said.

The 10-page charging document said Saipov waived his rights to remain silent and avoid self-incrimination in agreeing to speak to investigators without an attorney present from his bed at Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan.

In the course of that interview, the complaint said, Saipov told investigators he chose Halloween for the attack because he believed more people would be on the streets and said he had originally planned to strike the Brooklyn Bridge as well as the bike path on the western edge of lower Manhattan.

The complaint said Saipov had requested permission to display the flag of the Islamic State militant group in his hospital room.

It said he was particularly motivated by seeing a video in which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who led the campaign by Islamic State – also known as ISIS – to seize territory for a self-proclaimed caliphate within Iraq and Syria, exhorted Muslims in the United States and elsewhere to support the group’s cause.

Investigators found thousands of ISIS-related propaganda images and videos on a cellphone belonging to Saipov, including video clips showing ISIS prisoners being beheaded, run over by a tank and shot in the face, the complaint said.

Separately on Wednesday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it had located another Uzbek man, Mukhammadzoir Kadirov, 32, wanted for questioning as a person of interest in the attack. The FBI earlier had issued a wanted posted for Kadirov.

The assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, William Sweeney Jr., declined at a news conference to give any details on Kadirov or where he was found.

U.S. law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, told Reuters that Saipov had been in contact with Kadirov and another person of interest in the investigation, though they did not elaborate.

Sayfullo Saipov, the suspect in the New York City truck attack, is seen in this courtroom sketch appearing in Manhattan federal courtroom in a wheelchair in New York, NY, U.S., November 1, 2017.

Sayfullo Saipov, the suspect in the New York City truck attack, is seen in this courtroom sketch appearing in Manhattan federal courtroom in a wheelchair in New York, NY, U.S., November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

ELIGIBLE FOR DEATH PENALTY

Saipov was charged with one count of providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization, specifically Islamic State, and one count of violence and destruction of motor vehicles causing the deaths of eight people.

Manhattan acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said the first count carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, while the second would make Saipov eligible for capital punishment if convicted, if the government chose to seek the death penalty. Additional or different charges could be brought later in an indictment, Kim said.

Vehicle assaults similar to the New York attack took place in Spain in August and in France and Germany last year, claiming dozens of lives.

Tuesday’s assault was the deadliest in New York City since Sept. 11, 2001, when suicide hijackers crashed two jetliners into the World Trade Center, killing more than 2,600 people.

Of those killed on Tuesday, five were Argentine tourists, who were among a group of friends visiting New York to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation, one was a Belgian citizen, one was a New York resident and one lived in New Jersey.

Saipov allegedly used a pickup truck rented from a New Jersey Home Depot store to run down pedestrians and cyclists along a 20-block stretch of the bike path that runs along the Hudson River before slamming into a school bus.

According to authorities, he then exited his vehicle shouting “Allahu Akbar” – Arabic for “God is greatest” – and brandishing what turned out to be a paint-ball gun and a pellet gun before a police officer shot him in the abdomen.

Saipov lived in Paterson, New Jersey, a one-time industrial hub about 25 miles (40 km) northwest of lower Manhattan.

Candles are seen during a vigil for victims of the pickup truck attack at Foley Square in New York City, U.S., November 1, 2017

Candles are seen during a vigil for victims of the pickup truck attack at Foley Square in New York City, U.S., November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

WHEELCHAIR-BOUND SUSPECT

Saipov, seated in a wheelchair, appeared for a brief hearing in Manhattan federal court Wednesday evening before Magistrate Judge Barbara Moses. A Russian interpreter translated for Saipov.

Saipov did not ask for bail and was remanded to federal custody. It was not immediately clear where he would be held.

Moses appointed public defense attorney David Patton to represent Saipov.

Patton asked Moses that she recommend that Saipov be given a wheelchair or cane while in custody. He said Saipov was in “a significant amount of pain” and asked that he be given treatment for that as well. Moses agreed to the requests.

Two senior U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday urged authorities to treat Saipov as an enemy combatant, which would allow investigators to question him without having a lawyer present.

President Donald Trump said he would be open to transferring Saipov to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where other suspects including alleged Sept. 11 plotters are held.

Kim, the federal prosecutor, said there was nothing about charging Saipov in civilian court that would necessarily prevent him from later being declared an enemy combatant. “That is a determination that will be made elsewhere,” he told reporters.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said police will be out in force to protect the city’s marathon on Sunday, one of the world’s top road races, which draws some 51,000 runners and 2.5 million spectators from around the globe.

 

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen, Melissa Fares and Devika Kumar in New York, Joseph Ax in Paterson, New Jersey, and Mark Hosenball and Tim Ahmann in Washington; Writing by Scott Malone and Steve Gorman; Editing by Andrew Hay and Leslie Adler)

 

Deadly attack in New York City branded ‘terrorism’ by authorities

Police investigate a pickup truck used in an attack on the West Side Highway in Manhattan, New York, U.S.,

By Gina Cherelus and Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) – An Uzbek immigrant accused of killing eight people in New York City by driving a rental truck down a riverfront bike path on Tuesday appeared to have acted alone in an attack that bore all the hallmarks of terrorism, authorities said.

The suspect, who was shot by police and arrested moments after the rampage in Lower Manhattan, left a note saying he carried out the attack in the name of the militant Islamic State group, the New York Times and CNN said.

The death toll was lower than from similar assaults in Spain in August and in France and Germany last year. However, it was still the bloodiest single attack on New York City since Sept. 11, 2001, when suicide hijackers crashed two jetliners into the World Trade Center, killing more than 2,600 people.

The suspect allegedly swerved the pickup onto a path filled with pedestrians and bicyclists on a sunny, crisp autumn afternoon, mowing down everyone in his path before slamming into the side of a school bus.

The man then exited the vehicle brandishing what turned out to be a paint-ball gun and a pellet gun before a police officer shot him in the abdomen.

Multiple bikes are crushed along a bike path in lower Manhattan in New York, NY, U.S., October 31, 2017.

Multiple bikes are crushed along a bike path in lower Manhattan in New York, NY, U.S., October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The attack, which left crumpled bicycles scattered along the path and victims writhing on the ground, was over in seconds.

In addition to the eight fatalities at least 11 people were hospitalized for injuries described as serious but not life-threatening. That excluded the suspect, who underwent surgery for gunshot wounds.

Police declined to publicly identify the man, but a source familiar with the investigation said his name was Sayfullo Saipov, 29. He reportedly lived in Paterson, New Jersey, a one-time industrial hub about 25 miles (40 km) northwest of lower Manhattan.

He had rented the pickup from a Home Depot hardware store which, according to media accounts, was located in Passaic, just south of Paterson.

First responders tend to a victim after a shooting incident in New York City

First responders tend to a victim after a shooting incident in New York City October 31, 2017.

ARGENTINE FRIENDS AMONG DEAD

Six victims were pronounced dead at the scene and two more at a nearby hospital, Police Commissioner James O’Neill said.

Five of the dead were Argentine tourists, visiting New York as part of a group of friends celebrating the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation, the government there said. Belgium’s foreign minister said a Belgian citizen was also among those killed.

Despite the attack, thousands of costumed Halloween revelers turned out hours later for New York City’s main Halloween parade, which went on as scheduled on Tuesday night with a heightened police presence just a few blocks away.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said police will be out in force to protect the city’s marathon, which is scheduled for Sunday. “You’ll see a lot of officers with long guns. Other things you won’t see that are protecting us,” he told MSNBC.

A U.S. law enforcement official described the suspect as a U.S. immigrant born in Uzbekistan, a predominantly Muslim country in Central Asia that was once part of the former Soviet Union. CNN and NBC News said he entered the United States in 2010.

Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said his government would do all it could to help investigate the “extremely brutal” attack.

Authorities late on Tuesday surrounded a house in Paterson where, according to the New York Times, Saipov was believed to have lived. Paterson, known for its large immigrant population, is home to about 150,000 people, including 25,000 to 30,000 Muslims.

ABC News reported that Saipov had lived in Tampa, Florida. A check of court records related to a traffic citation that Saipov received in eastern Pennsylvania in 2015 showed he listed addresses then in Paterson and Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

CNN and other media outlets, citing police officials, reported that the suspect shouted “Allahu Akbar” – Arabic for “God is greatest” – when he jumped out of his truck.

Although authorities from the mayor’s office to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security all swiftly branded the attack an act of terrorism, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stressed that the suspect was believed to have acted alone.

The New York Times said investigators quickly recognized Saipov had come to the attention of law enforcement in the past. It cited three officials as saying federal authorities knew of Saipov from an unrelated probe, although it was unclear whether that was because he had ties to someone who was under scrutiny or because he was the target of an investigation.

A damaged school bus is seen at the scene of a pickup truck attack in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 31, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media.

A damaged school bus is seen at the scene of a pickup truck attack in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 31, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media. Sebastian Sobczak via REUTERS

U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence panel, told MSNBC in an interview that authorities were not aware of any other suspects, but that finding any such links would be a priority.

“It’s still I think far too early to say” whether the suspect was radicalized before he came to the United States years ago or shifted once he was already here, or acted on his own rather than at the behest of an organized group, he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has pressed for a ban on travelers entering the United States from some predominantly Muslim countries, said on Twitter that he had ordered Homeland Security officials to “step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!”

He also criticized the U.S. visa system, blaming Democrats and saying that he wanted a ‘merit based’ program for immigrants to the United States.

 

 

(Reporting by Dan Trotta and Gina Cherelus in New York; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen, Anna Driver and Barbara Goldberg in New York, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Mark Hosenball and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Paul Tait and Chizu Nomiyama)

 

Somalis defy police to protest against massive truck bombings

Protesters chant slogans while demonstrating against last weekend's explosion in KM4 street in the Hodan district in Mogadishu, Somalia October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

By Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Thousands of Somalis demonstrated on Wednesday against those behind bombings that killed more than 300 people at the weekend, defying police who opened fire to keep them away from where their loved-ones perished.

The twin blasts at busy junctions in the heart of Mogadishu on Saturday injured another more than 400 in what were the country’s deadliest truck bombings.

Police initially opened fire to prevent people from accessing the rubble-strewn scene of the attack, injuring at least two people, the emergency response service said.

But eventually they had to let thousands of the demonstrators gather there after they were overwhelmed by the numbers. Residents said they had never seen such a big protest in the city.

“We are demonstrating against the terrorists that massacred our people. We entered the road by force,” said Halima Abdullahi, a mother who lost six of her relatives in the attacks.

The Islamist militant group al Shabaab, which began an insurgency in 2007, has not claimed responsibility, but the method and type of attack – a large truck bomb – is increasingly used by the al Qaeda-linked organization.

Mohamed Ali, a police captain at the scene, said it was fine for the demonstrators to access the scene to express their grief.

“For some who could not see their relatives alive or dead, the only chance they have is to at least see the spot where their beloved were killed,” he told Reuters.

The government buried at least 160 of those who were killed because they could not be identified after the blast.

Masked security officers kept an eye on the protest on foot and on motorbikes. Some of the protesters sat on police trucks waving sticks and chanting: “We do not want al Shabaab”.

The militants were driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 and have been steadily losing territory.

But they retain the capacity to mount large bomb attacks. Over the past three years, the number of civilians killed by insurgent bombings has steadily climbed as al Shabaab increases the size of its bombs.

In the central town of Dusamareb, residents also marched for several hours to protest against the bombings in Mogadishu and clerics called for the war against the militants to be stepped up.

Abdikadir Abdirahman, the director of Aamin Ambulances, said one pregnant demonstrator was evacuated from the Mogadishu protest after she developed complications.

“The other two were also demonstrating. They were injured by bullets which the police fired to disperse the demonstrators who wanted to enter the blast scene by force,” he said.

(Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Alison Williams)

Afghan Shi’ites fear further attacks on Ashura celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

British police feel strain from attacks after latest London bombing

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

By Alistair Smout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

British police arrest man in hunt for London bombers

British police arrest man in hunt for London bombers

By Kate Holton

LONDON (Reuters) – British police arrested an 18-year-old man in the southern port of Dover on Saturday in a “significant” development in the hunt for the culprits behind a London commuter train bombing that injured 30 people a day earlier.

Prime Minister Theresa May put Britain on the highest security level of “critical” late on Friday, meaning an attack may be imminent, and deployed soldiers and armed police to secure strategic sites and hunt down the perpetrators.

In the fifth major terrorism attack in Britain this year, the home-made bomb shot flames through a packed commuter train during the Friday morning rush hour in west London but apparently failed to detonate fully.

The militant group Islamic State claimed responsibility.

“We have made a significant arrest in our investigation this morning,” said Neil Basu, Senior National Co-ordinator for Counter Terrorism Policing.

“This arrest will lead to more activity from our officers,” he said, suggesting there could be more arrests and house raids to come. “For strong investigative reasons we will not give any more details on the man we arrested at this stage.”

The arrest was made in the port area of Dover, where passenger ferries sail to France.

According to media reports, the bomb was attached to a timer unlike recent blasts which have typically been suicide bombs.

Pictures showed a slightly charred white plastic bucket with wires coming out of the top in a supermarket shopping bag on the floor of a train carriage.

The Parsons Green station where the attack took place had reopened by Saturday morning.

Armed police patrolled the streets of London near government departments in Westminster and were expected to guard the Premier League soccer grounds hosting matches on Saturday, including the national stadium of Wembley.

In the entertainment and cultural district on the south bank of the Thames, Cressida Dick, Britain’s top police officer, sought to reassure the public and tourists as she joined colleagues patrolling the area.

“Yesterday we saw a cowardly and indiscriminate attack which could have resulted in many lives being lost,” she said. “London has not stopped after other terrible attacks and it will not stop after this one.”

CRITICAL THREAT LEVEL

The last time Britain was put on “critical” alert was after a suicide bomber killed 22 people, including children, at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in May.

The threat level remained at the highest setting for four days while officers raced to establish if the man had worked alone or with the help of others. Prior to that it had not been triggered since 2007.

Prime Minister May said the public should not be alarmed by armed officers on the streets, a rare sight in Britain. “This is a proportionate and sensible step which will provide extra reassurance and protection while the investigation progresses,” she said in a televised statement late on Friday.

The bomb struck as passengers were traveling to the center of the British capital. Some suffered burns and others were injured in a stampede to escape from the station, one of the above-ground stops on the underground network. Health officials said none was thought to be in a serious condition.

With Britain on high alert after a spate of attacks this summer, witnesses recalled their horror.

“I was on the second carriage from the back. I just heard a kind of ‘whoosh’. I looked up and saw the whole carriage engulfed in flames making its way toward me,” Ola Fayankinnu, who was on the train, told Reuters.

“There were phones, hats, bags all over the place and when I looked back I saw a bag with flames.”

The Islamic State militant group have claimed other attacks in Britain this year, including two in London and the pop concert in Manchester.

It was not immediately possible to verify the claim about Parsons Green, for which Islamic State’s news agency Amaq offered no evidence.

Western intelligence officials have questioned similar claims in the past, saying that while Islamic State’s jihadist ideology may have inspired some attackers, there is scant evidence that it has orchestrated attacks.

(Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by David Clarke)

Several wounded after blast hits bus in Turkey’s Izmir

Plainclothes police officers stand after an explosion hit a shuttle bus carrying prison guards in Izmir, Turkey, August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan

By Ece Toksabay

ANKARA (Reuters) – Seven people were wounded when an explosion hit a shuttle bus carrying prison guards in the Turkish coastal province of Izmir on Thursday, and authorities were investigating a possible terrorist attack, the local mayor said.

The bus was hit as it passed a garbage container at around 7:40 a.m. (0440 GMT), Levent Piristina, the mayor of Izmir’s Buca district, said on Twitter.

Photographs he posted on social media showed its windows blown out and its windscreen shattered. The force of the blast appeared to have blown out some of the bus’s panels, and the nearby street was littered with debris.

“We are getting information from police sources and they are focusing on the possibility of a terrorist attack,” he said, adding that all seven wounded were in good condition.

Both state-run TRT Haber and private broadcaster Dogan news agency said the explosion was caused by a bomb placed in the garbage container that exploded when the shuttle bus passed.

No one immediately claimed responsibility. Both Kurdish militants and jihadist Islamic State militants have carried out suicide and bomb attacks in major Turkish cities in recent years.

Kurdish militants have previously targeted buses carrying security personnel.

In December, a bomb killed at least 13 soldiers and wounded more than 50 when it ripped through a bus carrying off-duty military personnel in the central city of Kayseri, an attack the government blamed on Kurdish militants.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Turkey and the European Union, has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.

The outlawed PKK wants autonomy for Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast.

(Editing by Dominic Evans and David Dolan)

Suicide attack at Kabul Shi’ite mosque kills ‘at least 14 civilians’

An Afghan policeman keeps guard the the site of attack in Kabul, Afghanistan August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

KABUL (Reuters) – A suicide bomber detonated himself at the gate of a Shi’ite Muslim mosque in the Afghan capital as other attackers stormed the building, killing at least 14 people as worshippers gathered for Friday prayers, officials said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Islamic State militants have attacked minority Shi’ite targets in Afghanistan in the past.

An official at the Ministry of Interior said there were at least 14 civilian casualties, while at least two policemen had been killed and eight wounded.

At least two bodies and 15 wounded people had been brought to city hospitals, with ambulances retrieving more casualties at the scene, said Ismail Kawosi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health.

Some witnesses at the scene said the attackers threw grenades, while police officials said a suicide bomber detonated himself at the gate.

One witness said an attacker wearing a vest packed with explosives shot and killed the guards at the gate.

“At first a suicide bomber opened fire and martyred two security guards at the entrance of the mosque and then they entered inside,” Sayed Pacha told Reuters. “Some people escaped out of the mosque including women, but there were four attackers who managed to enter the mosque.”

Later explosions rocked the area, but their source was unclear.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Finns want tougher immigration policy after knife attack, poll shows

FILE PHOTO: People attend a moment of silence to commemorate the victims of Friday's stabbings at the Turku Market Square in Turku, Finland August 20, 2017. Lehtikuva/Vesa Moilanen via REUTERS

HELSINKI (Reuters) – An increasing number of Finns want the government to get tougher on immigration after last week’s knife attack by a Moroccan asylum seeker that killed two women and wounded eight other people, an opinion poll showed on Thursday.

Friday’s stabbings in the city of Turku have been treated as the first suspected Islamist militant attack in Finland, which boasts one of the lowest crime rates in the world. However, the main suspected has denied terrorism was a motive.

Some 58 percent of Finns want the government to tighten immigration policy and give police and other officials extra powers to prevent future attacks, according to the poll, which was taken after the attack and published by the Finnish newspaper Iltalehti.

A similar poll in April showed only 40 percent supported stricter policies.

Finnish police have detained four men and arrested two in connection with the Turku killings. An international arrest warrant has been issued for a fifth.

The main suspect, who is in custody, has been named as Abderrahman Mechkah, an 18-year-old Moroccan. He told a court he was responsible for the attack but denied his motive was terrorism.

At the time of the attack, Mechkah was appealing against a decision on his application for asylum, which apparently was denied.

Prime Minister Juha Sipila has urged the parliament to fast-track a bill that would give authorities new powers to monitor citizens online.

Some officials have also promoted establishing better-controlled “return centers” to monitor more closely those who had been denied asylum.

The poll showed 80 percent of Finns supporting both proposals.

(Reporting by Tuomas Forsell, editing by Larry King)