U.S. envoy to Sri Lanka says threat is real; security forces maintain high alert

A soldier keeps guard as nuns walk out of St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

By A. Ananthalakshmi and Alexandra Ulmer

COLOMBO (Reuters) – The U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka said on Tuesday that some of the Islamist militants behind Easter Sunday bombings that killed more than 250 people were likely still at large and could be planning more attacks.

Sri Lankan security forces also said they were maintaining a high level of alert amid intelligence reports that the militants were likely to strike before the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which is due to begin next Monday.

“Tremendous progress has been made toward apprehending those plotters but I don’t think the story is over yet,” Ambassador Alaina Teplitz said in an interview.

“We do believe that there is active planning under way,” she said, referring to the possibility of more attacks.

Scores of suspected Islamists have been arrested in the multi-ethnic island nation since April 21 suicide bomb attacks on hotels and churches. Among the dead were 42 foreign nationals.

“Security will stay tight for several days because military and police are still tracking down suspects,” a senior police intelligence official said. 

Another government source told Reuters security authorities had ordered police and other security forces across the Buddhist-majority country to remain on high alert because the militants were expected to try to strike before Ramadan.

Teplitz told Reuters the risk of more attacks remained real.

“We certainly have reason to believe that the active attack group has not been fully rendered inactive,” she said.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting Sri Lankan authorities in the investigations but Teplitz declined to give more details.

The State Department has issued a travel advisory suggesting people reconsider plans to travel to Sri Lanka.

SOCIAL MEDIA BAN LIFTED

The government has lifted a ban on social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber, a source at the president’s office said. The ban was imposed immediately after the attacks to prevent the spread of rumors.

The government has also banned women from wearing face veils under an emergency law invoked in response to the blasts.

Authorities suspect members of two previously little-known groups – National Thawheedh Jamaath (NTJ) and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim – of carrying out the attacks, although the Islamic State militant group has claimed responsibility.

Authorities believe Zahran Hashim, the founder of NTJ, was the mastermind and one of the nine suicide bombers.

Islamic State released a video after the attack through its AMAQ news agency, showing eight men, with all but Zahran with their faces covered, standing under a black Islamic State flag, declaring loyalty to its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The Islamic group’s media network published a video on Monday purporting to come from al-Baghdadi, in which he said the Sri Lanka bombings were Islamic State’s response to losses in its last stronghold of Baghouz in Syria.

In India, police said they had arrested a 29-year-old man in the southern state of Kerala, close to Sri Lanka, for planning similar attacks there. The man had been influenced by speeches made by Zahran, India’s National Investigation Agency said in a statement.

Sri Lanka’s 22 million population is mostly Buddhist but includes minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus.

(Additional reporting by Ranga Srilal and Shri Navaratnam; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

U.S. top court will not revive verdict against Palestinian Authority, PLO

FILE PHOTO: Police officers stand in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC, U.S., January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization gained a legal victory at the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday as the justices refused to consider reinstating a $655.5 million jury award won against them by 11 American families over militant attacks in Israel.

The court declined to hear the families’ appeal of a lower court’s 2016 ruling throwing out the jury award secured in a lawsuit brought under the Anti-Terrorism Act, a law that lets American victims of international terrorism seek damages in U.S. courts.

The families had looked to hold the Palestinian Authority and PLO liable for six shootings and bombings between 2002 and 2004 in the Jerusalem area that killed 33 people, including several Americans, and wounded more than 450.

“It’s outrageous that the murderous Palestinian Authority is allowed to kill innocent civilians and not have to pay any cost. This is a horrible travesty of justice for the families and we will not let it stand,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center, which represents the American families.

Gassan Baloul, a lawyer for the Palestinian defendants, said he was “gratified” that the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. The ruling by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court that the high court left in place “respects the constitutional limits on the jurisdiction of U.S. courts,” Baloul added.

President Donald Trump’s administration had sided with the Palestinian Authority and PLO in the dispute, urging the justices not to take up the case because the specific claims could not be brought under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

“The United States condemns acts of terror in the strongest terms and the Department of Justice is committed to prosecuting those who commit terrorist attacks against innocent human beings to the fullest extent that the law allows,” U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said.

“We will continue to support wherever possible all lawful actions to fight terrorism and provide redress to the victims of terrorist attacks and their families,” Kupec added.

The attacks at the center of the lawsuit have been attributed to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas. Lead plaintiff Mark Sokolow, his wife and their two daughters were injured in a 2002 suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

JURISDICTION QUESTION

The 2nd Circuit ordered that the civil lawsuit, which began in January 2004, be dismissed. The appeals court said the attacks occurred “entirely outside” U.S. territory, and found no evidence that Americans were targeted. As a result, American courts do not have jurisdiction to hear the claims, it said.

The families said late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004, and his agents routinely arranged for payments to attackers and to families of militants who died. The Palestinian Authority and PLO have said they condemned the attacks and blamed them on rogue individuals within the organizations acting on their own.

In 2015, after a six-week trial, a federal jury in Manhattan awarded the families $218.5 million, which was tripled automatically to $655.5 million under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the appeals court decision “eviscerates the Anti-Terrorism Act” by severely limiting what cases can be heard in U.S. courts. They argued that Congress wrote the law specifically to apply to attacks that took place outside the United States in which U.S. citizens were injured or killed, whether or not Americans were specifically targeted.

In a separate case on a similar theme, the Supreme Court in February blocked a group of Americans injured in a 1997 suicide bombing in Jerusalem from seizing ancient Persian artifacts from a Chicago museum to satisfy a $71.5 million court judgment against Iran, which they had accused of complicity in the attack.

The Supreme Court in another case is weighing whether Jordan-based Arab Bank Plc can be sued over legal claims that it helped finance militant attacks in Israel and the Palestinian territories. A ruling is due by the end of June.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Will Dunham)

Israel accuses French consulate employee of smuggling guns to Palestinians

Romain Franck, an employee of the French consulate-general in Jerusalem, appears with co-defendants in the district court in Beersheba, Israel, March 19, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Monday it had arrested a French citizen, an employee of France’s consulate in Jerusalem, on suspicion of using a diplomatic car to smuggle guns from the Islamist Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Held since Feb 15, Romain Franck is accused of moving a total of 70 pistols and two assault rifles between the Palestinian territories on at least five occasions, the Shin Bet security agency said after a gag order on the case was lifted.

Franck “acted for financial profit, on his own initiative and without the knowledge of his superiors,” a Shin Bet statement said. He is not believed to have also had an ideological motives such as support for Palestinian militants, a Shin Bet official told Reuters.

“This is a very serious incident in which the immunity and privileges granted to foreign diplomatic missions in Israel were cynically exploited to smuggle dozens of weapons that may be used for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces,” the statement said.

Franck, 23, was due to appear at a 1230 GMT Israeli court hearing at which formal charges would be filed. His lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment on how Franck might plead.

A Facebook page under the name Roman Franck, and carrying photographs that looked similar to the mugshot published by the Shin Bet, shows images of the young man against desert vistas.

“Feeling good in Palestine,” says one caption.

A Jan. 17 posting said the Facebook account-holder was “traveling to Jerusalem starting to (sic) a new adventure”.

A spokesman for the French Embassy in Tel Aviv described Franck as “a member of the consulate-general in Jerusalem” and said France was taking the case seriously and cooperating with Israeli authorities.

Franck was arrested along with a Palestinian from East Jerusalem employed as a security guard at the consulate as well as seven other suspects, the Shin Bet said.

It accused him of using a consulate-owned sports utility vehicle, which enjoyed more cursory Israeli security checks due to its diplomatic status, to bring the factory-produced guns from Gaza to Palestinian arms dealers in the West Bank.

According to the Shin Bet statement, Franck received the guns from a Palestinian employed by the French Cultural Centre in Gaza. It could not immediately be reached for comment.

Most countries keep their embassies to Israel in Tel Aviv, as well as consulates in Jerusalem that handle diplomatic outreach to the Palestinians.

Israel counts all of Jerusalem as its capital, a status not recognized abroad although the United States, breaking with other world powers, plans to move its embassy in Israel to the city in May.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they seek to establish in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

(Reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Toby Chopra)

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)

China warns of imminent attacks by “terrorists” in Pakistan

China warns of imminent attacks by "terrorists" in Pakistan

BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Friday warned its nationals in Pakistan of plans for a series of imminent “terrorist attacks” on Chinese targets there, an unusual alert as it pours funds into infrastructure projects into a country plagued by militancy.

Thousands of Chinese workers have gone to Pakistan following Beijing’s pledge to spend $57 billion there on projects in President Xi Jinping’s signature “Belt and Road” development plan, which aims to link China with the Middle East and Europe.

Protecting employees of Chinese companies, as well as individual entrepreneurs who have followed the investment wave along what is known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, has been a concern for Chinese officials.

“It is understood that terrorists plan in the near term to launch a series of attacks against Chinese organizations and personnel in Pakistan,” the Chinese embassy in Pakistan said in a statement on its website.

The embassy warned all “Chinese-invested organizations and Chinese citizens to increase security awareness, strengthen internal precautions, reduce trips outside as much as possible, and avoid crowded public spaces”.

It also asked Chinese nationals to cooperate with Pakistan’s police and the military, and to alert the embassy in the event of an emergency.

It did not give any further details.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry could not be reached immediately for comment.

China has long worried about disaffected members of its Uighur Muslim minority in its far western region of Xinjiang linking up with militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

At the same time, violence in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province has fueled concern about security for planned transport and energy links from western China to Pakistan’s deepwater port of Gwadar.

The Taliban, sectarian groups linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State all operate in Baluchistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan and is at the center of the “Belt and Road” initiative.

In addition, separatists there have long battled the government for a greater share of gas and mineral resources, and have a long record of attacking energy and other infrastructure projects.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for killing two kidnapped Chinese teachers in Baluchistan in June, prompting the government in Islamabad to pledge to beef up security for Chinese nationals.

It had already promised a 15,000-strong army division to safeguard projects along the economic corridor.

China’s security concerns abroad have grown along with its global commercial footprint.

In 2016, a suspected suicide car bomber rammed the gates of the Chinese embassy in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, killing the attacker and wounding at least three people.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Referrals to UK counter-terrorism scheme double after recent attacks: police

Police officers patrol in front of London Stadium during World Athletics Championships in London, Britain, August 6, 2017. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

By Mark Hosenball

LONDON (Reuters) – Referrals by members of the public to the British government’s counter-terrorism scheme have doubled since militants launched deadly attacks earlier this year in London and Manchester, a senior police official said on Wednesday.

Simon Cole, the National Police Chief Council’s lead spokesman on deradicalization efforts, said police had received around 200 referrals to the strategy known as “Prevent” from members of the public since March when Britain suffered the first of four deadly attacks.

Officials said that this figure was around twice the numbers of referrals that “Prevent” representatives around Britain had received in the months prior to the attacks.

“Even though these referrals from the public are increasing, we still need more people to have the confidence to tell our safeguarding experts if they are worried about someone’s behavior,” Cole told reporters.

Prevent has long been the most controversial strand of the government’s attempts to stop Britons from becoming involved in violent extremism following its introduction in the wake of the July 2005 suicide bombings by four British Islamists on London’s transport network.

Many Muslims believe it has been used as a tool to spy on their communities rather than simply sway potential militants from becoming radicalised.

Cole’s comments are the latest attempt by senior officers to try to reassure the public about Prevent and come days after Dean Haydon, the officer who heads up London’s Counter Terrorism Command, said it had achieved “fantastic results” and that criticism was based on ignorance.

“All of us involved in Prevent need to work to improve that public confidence and understanding, challenging damaging myths and be more transparent in our approach,” Cole said. “We would rather people show concern before something happens.”

Cole said the number of referrals made to “Prevent” by members of the public was still relatively low, with 500 made in 2016 and 2017 compared to an annual total of about 6300. The other referrals were made by government or police bodies or other public organizations.

The program had helped the authorities stop about 150 people from traveling to Syria in the past year, Cole said, adding about 55 to 60 percent of referrals were related to possible involvement by British individuals with Islamic State militants.

However, another 15 percent were related to right-wing extremism. Officials said that the number of referrals about suspected right-wing extremists had doubled since the murder last June of British lawmaker Jo Cox, who was killed by a loner obsessed with Nazis and white supremacist ideology.

(editing by Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge)

Australian counter-terrorism police arrest four in Sydney

Police stand on a street that has been blocked to the public after Australian counter-terrorism police arrested four people in raids late on Saturday across several Sydney suburbs in Australia, July 29, 2017. REUTERS/David Gray

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian counter-terrorism police arrested four people in raids late on Saturday across several Sydney suburbs aimed at disrupting plans for “terrorist attacks”.

“These operations are designed to disrupt and prevent plans to undertake terrorist attacks in Australia,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in an emailed statement.

Australian Federal Police said the raids by the Joint Counter Terrorism Team in four suburbs in different parts of the city “relate to an ongoing investigation.”

“Four men have been taken into custody and are assisting police with their enquiries,” the AFP said in a statement.

The police declined to provide more detail, saying “further information will be made available at the appropriate time.”

“The public should be reassured that our security and intelligence agencies are working tirelessly to keep us safe,” Turnbull said.

Australia, a close ally of the United States, has been on heightened alert for attacks by home-grown militants returning from fighting in the Middle East, or their supporters, since 2014.

Authorities say they have thwarted a number of potential attacks since then, but there have been several “lone wolf” assaults, including a cafe siege in Sydney that left two hostages and the gunman dead.

About 100 people have left Australia for Syria to fight alongside organizations such as Islamic State, Australia’s immigration minister said last month.

Australian newspaper publisher News Ltd reported up to 40 riot squad officers were seen swooping on a house in the inner city suburb of Surry Hills.

(Reporting By Jane Wardell; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Stephen Powell)

Islamic State calls for attacks in United States, Russia, Middle East, Asia during Ramadan

CAIRO (Reuters) – An audio message purporting to come from the spokesman of Islamic State called on followers to launch attacks in the United States, Europe, Russia, Australia, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and the Philippines during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which began in late May.

The audio clip was distributed on Monday on Islamic State’s channel on Telegram, an encrypted messaging application. It was attributed to the militant group’s official spokesman, Abi al-Hassan al-Muhajer.

The authenticity of the recording could not be independently verified, but the voice was the same as a previous audio message purported to be from the spokesman.

“O lions of Mosul, Raqqa, and Tal Afar, God bless those pure arms and bright faces, charge against the rejectionists and the apostates and fight them with the strength of one man,” said al-Muhajer. Rejectionist is a derogatory term used to refer to Shi’ite Muslims.

“To the brethren of faith and belief in Europe, America, Russia, Australia, and others. Your brothers in your land have done well so take them as role models and do as they have done.”

(Reporting by Ali Abdelaty; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Alison Williams)

Two days from UK election, security dominates campaign after London attack

Pedestrians carry umbrellas as they walk past floral tributes to the victims of the recent attack at London Bridge and Borough Market, in central London, Britain June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

By Estelle Shirbon and Kate Holton

LONDON (Reuters) – Two days from a national election, Britain’s ruling Conservatives and opposition Labour Party battled to defend their records on security after an Islamist attack that killed seven people in London upended the campaign.

After police named two of the attackers and revealed that one was previously known to security agencies, Prime Minister Theresa May faced further questions about her record overseeing cuts to police numbers when she was interior minister.

The latest opinion poll, by Survation for ITV, had the Conservatives’ lead over Labour narrowing to just one point from six points in the same poll a week earlier.

However, the consensus among pollsters remains that May’s party, who have been in government since 2010, will win a majority.

In Britain’s third Islamist attack in as many months, three men rammed a van into pedestrians on London Bridge on Saturday evening before running into the bustling Borough Market area, where they slit throats and stabbed people.

The rampage followed a suicide bombing that killed 22 adults and children at a pop concert in Manchester two weeks ago, and an attack in March when five people died after a car was driven into pedestrians on London’s Westminster Bridge.

One of the London Bridge attackers was 27-year-old Khuram Butt, a British citizen born in Pakistan. He was known to police and the domestic spy agency MI5 but, with resources scarce, had not been deemed enough of a threat to warrant close monitoring, police said.

Butt had appeared in a television documentary called “The Jihadis Next Door”, broadcast last year by Britain’s Channel 4, one of a group of men who unfurled an Islamic State flag in a park.

All three attackers were shot dead at the scene by officers within eight minutes of police receiving the first emergency call.

The Canadian Christine Archibald, a French national and a Briton were among the dead, while other French people, a Spaniard, Australians and a New Zealander were among the 48 who were injured in what May called “an attack on the free world”.

The family of 32-year-old Briton James McMullan said they believed he, too, had lost his life.

MINUTE’S SILENCE

A nationwide minute of silence was held at 11 a.m. (1000 GMT) to honor all the victims.

Before the recent attacks, Brexit and domestic issues such as the state of the health service and the cost of care for the elderly had dominated the election campaign.

When May called the election in April, her Conservatives led in opinion polls by 20 points or more.

But an announcement – made before the Manchester and London Bridge attacks – that they planned to make some of the elderly pay more for their care saw that lead start to shrink, to between one and 12 points now.

Security has become the number one issue and both main parties issued statements on Tuesday portraying their own positions on policing and intelligence as the most robust.

During a round of media interviews, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson faced a barrage of questions about whether there had been security failures and about past police cuts. He sought to deflect the pressure onto Labour, accusing them of weakness.

Asked about repeated criticism of London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s response to the attack by U.S. President Donald Trump, Johnson said he did not think there was any reason to cancel Trump’s planned state visit to Britain.

As interior minister from 2010 to 2016, May oversaw a drop of 20,000 in the number of police officers in England and Wales, which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said should never have happened and warranted her resignation.

The MI5 domestic intelligence service has seen its budget increased and has plans to expand its numbers to 5,000 officers from 4,000 over the next five years, MI5 chief Andrew Parker said last year.

Corbyn himself has faced repeated questioning over his own past views and actions on security matters.

He has been criticized for voting against counter-terrorism legislation and expressing reservations about police responding to attacks with “shoot-to-kill” tactics. Since the attack, he has said he fully supported the actions of the police.

Corbyn has also faced fierce criticism for past sympathies with the Palestinian group Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, a guerrilla group that waged a violent struggle to take Northern Ireland out of the UK.

“ALMOST EUPHORIC”

While the political debate raged, the investigation into Saturday’s attack continued, with police searching an address in Ilford, east London, in the early hours of Tuesday.

Police had arrested 12 people on Sunday in Barking, also in the east of the city, but said late on Monday all had been released without charge.

The second attacker who has been named was 30-year-old Rachid Redouane, who also went by the alias Rachid Elkhdar and claimed to be Moroccan or Libyan, police said. He and Butt both lived in Barking.

One of Butt’s neighbors, Ikenna Chigbo, told Reuters he had chatted with Butt – known locally as “Abz” – just hours before the attack on Saturday and said he appeared “almost euphoric”.

“He was very sociable, seemed like an ordinary family man. He would always bring his kid out into the lobby,” said Chigbo.

Police said they had to prioritize resources on suspects who were believed to be preparing an attack or providing active support for one. Butt did not fall into that category when they last investigated him.

(Additional reporting by Alistair Smout and William James; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Kevin Liffey)

U.S. issues travel alert for Europe, citing threat of terrorist attacks

FILE PHOTO - Passengers make their way in a security checkpoint at the International JFK airport in New York October 11, 2014. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert for Europe on Monday, saying U.S. citizens should be aware of a continued threat of terrorist attacks throughout the continent.

In the alert, the State Department cited recent incidents in France, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom and said Islamic State and al Qaeda “have the ability to plan and execute terrorist attacks in Europe.”

The State Department’s previous travel alert for Europe, issued ahead of the winter holiday season, expired in February. A State Department official said Monday’s alert was not prompted by a specific threat, but rather recognition of the continuing risk of attacks especially ahead of the summer holidays. The alert expires on Sept. 1.

Malls, government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, airports and other locations are all possible targets for attacks, the State Department’s alert said.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; editing by Diane Craft)