U.S. prosecutors charge New York man with being Islamic State sniper

Ruslan Maratovich Asainov, a 42-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Kazakhstan, appears in this courtroom sketch alongside Attorney Susan Kellman before United States Magistrate Judge Steven M. Gold at the United States Courthouse after he was was charged with providing material support to the Islamic State, in New York City, U.S. July 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

(Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors have charged a New York man with fighting for the Islamic State militant group in Syria and serving as a weapons trainer, according to court documents unsealed on Friday.

Ruslan Maratovich Asainov, a 42-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Kazakhstan, was charged with providing material support to the terrorist organization, including providing training to terrorist soldiers and attempting to recruit personnel.

Asainov traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, from his home in New York’s Brooklyn borough in December 2013 and then to Syria, where he joined Islamic State and rose through the ranks as a sniper and then as a weapons instructor, according to charging documents.

Prosecutors said Asainov was detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces and was transferred into FBI custody.

The charges filed against Asainov were based in part on his regular communication between August 2014 and March 2015 with a confidential informant working for the New York Police Department. According to the complaint, Asainov attempted to recruit the informant to work for Islamic State’s media operations and asked that he send about $2,800 for military equipment.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for several attacks against Americans in the United States and abroad.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Boston; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. to stop training Turkish F-35 pilots because of Russia deal: sources

FILE PHOTO: A Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt/File Photo

By Phil Stewart and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The United States has decided to stop accepting any more Turkish pilots who had planned to train in the United States on F-35 fighter jets, three U.S. officials said, in a sign of an escalating dispute over Ankara’s plans to purchase Russian air defenses. The two NATO allies have sparred publicly for months over Turkey’s order for Russia’s S-400 air defense system, which Washington says poses a threat to the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 stealthy fighters, which Turkey also plans to buy.

The United States says Turkey cannot have both, but had avoided taking steps to curtail or halt planned training of Turkish pilots in the program, a reprisal that could be seen as an embarrassment in Turkey.

The three U.S. officials, who spoke to Reuters this week on condition of anonymity, left open the possibility the decision could be reversed, perhaps if Turkey altered its plans. They said the decision so far only applied to upcoming rounds of Turkish pilots and maintenance crews who would have normally trained in the United States.

Reuters was first to report the U.S. decision on pilots, which traders said pressured the Turkish lira on Friday.

A spokesman for Turkey’s Defense Ministry declined comment on Friday.

The Pentagon declined comment on whether it would accept new Turkish pilots. But it has stressed discussions are taking place with Ankara on potentially selling Turkey Patriot missile defenses, which are made by Raytheon Co.

The United States also has threatened to halt training of Turkish pilots and maintenance crews already in the United States, two of the officials said. Reuters reported last week that the step was being seriously considered.

One official said the pilots in the United States could be removed by the end of July.

Four Turkish pilots are currently training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. Two additional Turkish pilots are there working as instructors. Beyond those six Turkish officers, there are an additional 20 Turkish aircraft maintainers at the base undergoing training as well, the U.S. military says.

Turkey has expressed an interest in buying 100 of the fighters, which would have a total value of $9 billion at current prices.

STRAINED RELATIONSHIP

If Turkey were removed from the F-35 program, it would be one of the most significant ruptures in recent history in the relationship between the two allies, experts said.

Strains in their ties already extend beyond the F-35 to include conflicting strategy in Syria, Iran sanctions and the detention of U.S. consular staff in Turkey.

The disclosure of the decision on the pilots follows signs that Turkey is moving ahead with the S-400 purchase. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on May 22 that Turkish military personnel were receiving training in Russia to use the S-400, and that Russian personnel may go to Turkey.

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday it was “out of the question” for Turkey to back away from its deal with Moscow.

Erdogan said the United States had not “given us an offer as good as the S-400s.”

The Turkish lira declined as much as 1.5% on Friday before recovering some losses. The currency has shed nearly 10% of its value against the dollar this year in part on fraying diplomatic ties and the risk of U.S. sanctions if Turkey accepts delivery of the S-400s.

Kathryn Wheelbarger, one of the Pentagon’s most senior policy officials, said last week that Turkey’s completion of the transaction with Russia would be “devastating,” dealing heavy blows to the F-35 program and to Turkish interoperability within the NATO alliance.

“The S-400 is a Russian system designed to shoot down an aircraft like the F-35,” said Wheelbarger, an acting assistant secretary of defense. “And it is inconceivable to imagine Russia not taking advantage of that (intelligence) collection opportunity.”

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Dominic Evans, Mike Stone and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Mary Milliken, Peter Cooney and Howard Goller)

Teen from New Mexico compound says he was trained for jihad: FBI

FILE PHOTO: Personal articles are shown at the compound in rural New Mexico where 11 children were taken in protective custody after a raid by authorities near Amalia, New Mexico, August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew HayREUTERS/File Photo

By Andrew Hay

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) – A 13-year-old boy who was part of group taken into custody at a squalid New Mexico compound last month has told FBI agents his mother’s boyfriend was training him to conduct “jihad” against non-believers, according to federal court documents.

The boy was among 11 children and five adults living at the compound in Taos County when it was raided on Aug. 3 by local sheriff’s deputies who discovered a cache of firearms and the children living without food or clean water. The dead body of a three-year-old boy was found buried at the site later.

They initially faced state charges, then on Friday, the five adults including a Haitian woman described as the group’s leader, 35-year-old Jany Leveille, were arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and accused of conspiracy and firearms offenses.

In an affidavit filed in support of a criminal complaint, an FBI special agent wrote that Leveille’s 13-year-old son told investigators that his mother’s boyfriend, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40, wanted to “get an army together” and train them for jihad.

The boy told agents that Ibn Wahhaj trained him and another of Leveille’s teenage sons in firearms and military techniques, including rapid reloads and hand-to-hand combat, and told them jihad meant killing non-believers on behalf of Allah, according to the affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in New Mexico.

The 13-year-old also told the FBI that his mother believed she received messages from God, and that he watched her and Ibn Wahhaj perform supposed “exorcism” rituals over the three-year-old boy, including one during which the boy choked and his heart stopped, according to the special agent’s affidavit.

The teenager said his mother and others at the compound told him not to talk to anyone about the three-year-old ever being at the compound because they would “all go to jail.”

Defense lawyers have said that the five adults were exercising their constitutional rights to practice their religion and own firearms, and that the group is being discriminated against because they are black and Muslim. The defense attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment on Saturday.

The five defendants came under FBI surveillance in May after Leveille wrote a letter to Ibn Wahhaj’s brother asking him to join them and become a “martyr,” state prosecutors have said.

They are due to appear in court in Albuquerque on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Additional reporting and writing by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Marguerita Choy)

New Mexico child abuse suspects accused of training children for shootings

Conditions at a compound in rural New Mexico where 11 children were taken into protective custody for their own health and safety after a raid by authorities, are shown in this photo near Amalia, New Mexico, U.S., provided August 6, 2018. Taos County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS

By Andrew Hay

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) – Five adults charged with abusing 11 children at a New Mexico compound, where they were found ragged and starving, were training those children to use firearms to commit school shootings, prosecutors said in court documents on Wednesday.

The principal suspect, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, also was charged with abducting his 3-year-old son from his home in Atlanta last December, prompting a cross-country manhunt that led authorities to the compound they raided last Friday north of Taos, New Mexico.

Remains of a young boy believed to be the missing child were found on the property on Monday, on what would have been his fourth birthday, but have not been positively identified, authorities said. The 11 children found alive, ranging in age from 1 to 15 years old, were placed in protective custody.

At an arraignment on Wednesday, Mahhaj and his four co-defendants, Lucas Morton and three women presumed to be the mothers of the 11 surviving children, each pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of felony child abuse. Morton also was charged with harboring a fugitive.

Prosecutors made no mention of motive or ideology in court filings or during court proceedings on Wednesday.

In petitions seeking to detain all five suspects without bail, prosecutors said each was under investigation in the boy’s death.

No weapons charges were filed in the case, but prosecutors said the defendants were suspected of training children “with weapons in furtherance of a conspiracy to commit school shootings.”

Prosecutors said the allegation of weapons training was based on statements from a foster parent for one of the children.

SHOOTING RANGE

Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe referred over the weekend to the suspects as “extremists of Muslim belief,” but he declined to elaborate when asked about it on Tuesday by reporters.

The women, who appeared in court on Wednesday with white sheets over their heads, were identified as Jany Leveille, Subhannah Wahhaj and Hujrah Wahhaj. One of the men wore a towel over his head in the style of a Mideastern keffiyeh, or headdress.

Hogrefe said on Tuesday that investigators found a shooting range at one end of the squalid compound, situated near the Colorado border.

The sheriff has said he sought a search warrant for the compound after a distress message was passed on to authorities in Georgia and shared with his office. He said the FBI was also investigating.

Wahhaj, 39, whose first name was mistakenly presented in some court documents as Huraj, has been described as being in control of the compound. He was heavily armed when taken into custody, Hogrefe said.

According to court documents, when the children were found they were in rags and appeared to have gone days without food, and loaded firearms were within their reach.

Aleksandar Kostich, a public defender representing the five adults, said the identical wording of the allegations about weapons training in each petition suggested that prosecutors were less than certain about the information they were given.

A man who identified himself to reporters as Gerard Jabril Abdulwali, 64, of Alexandria, Egypt, and the father of Morton, attended the court hearing, during which he shouted, “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.”

He told reporters afterward that was in the United States for medical reasons and had not heard from his son since last year until he received a text message from Morton last Thursday that said “they were starving.”

Abdulwali said his son and the other suspects were “peaceful adult settlers.”

“They were homesteading and were trying to establish a peaceful community, a peaceful life away from society,” he said. “They just went about it the wrong way.”

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Toni Reinhold)

Starbucks closes 8,000 stores for anti-bias training

A woman walks through Center City clutching a hot Starbucks beverage, before more than 8,000 stores nationwide will close this afternoon for anti-bias training, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania U.S., May 29, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Makela

(Reuters) – Starbucks Corp appealed to customers for forgiveness in a controversy over racial profiling on Tuesday, saying its behavior toward two black men last month had been reprehensible as it closed 8,000 U.S. stores for anti-bias training.

The company settled privately with the two men after a Philadelphia cafe manager’s call to police resulted in their arrests on April 12. It was closing 8,000 company-owned American stores at around 2 p.m. local time on Tuesday as a first step in training 175,000 employees on racial tolerance.

Analysts expect the closures, coming during the typically slow afternoon hours, would cost Starbucks $5 million to $7 million in lost business. Some 6,000 licensed Starbucks cafes will remain open in locations such as grocery stores and airports, and those employees will be trained later.

The Philadelphia arrests sparked protests and accusations of racial profiling at the coffee chain, which is known for its liberal stances on social issues such as same-sex marriage.

Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz, who crafted the chain’s culture in his decades as chief executive officer, in an open letter called the manager’s 911 emergency call and the subsequent arrests by police “reprehensible.”

“We determined that insufficient support and training, a company policy that defined customers as paying patrons—versus anyone who enters a store—and bias led to the decision to call the police,” he said.

With independent cafes proliferating and powerful rivals making assertive moves into the coffee business it dominates, analysts said Starbucks cannot afford bad publicity.

On Tuesday JAB Holdings, the private investment company of Germany’s billionaire Reimann family, said it bought a majority stake in British sandwich and coffee shop chain Pret A Manger for $2 billion, expanding its reach into the coffee sector, where it also battles Nescafe and Nespresso maker Nestle.

Earlier this month, Nestle and Starbucks struck a $7 billion coffee licensing deal aimed at strengthening each company’s global position.

Civil rights leaders advising Starbucks on its anti-bias training hope it will reinvigorate decades-old efforts to ensure minorities get equal treatment in restaurants and stores, setting an example for other corporations.

The move has renewed speculation that Schultz is paving the way for a U.S. presidential bid, something he has repeatedly denied. But he appeared to be more open to the idea of political office in an interview with CNN on Tuesday.

“I want to be as involved as I possibly can as a citizen to help the country,” he said. “I don’t know what that’s going to mean in the future.”

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles and Aishwarya Venugopal in Bengaluru; editing by Patrick Graham and Jonathan Oatis)

New York police poised to thwart New Year’s Eve suicide bombers

New York Police Department Counterterrorism Bureau members stand in Times Square to provide security ahead of New Year's Eve celebrations in Manhattan, New York, U.S. December 28, 2017

By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The New York Police Department is providing officers with specialized training to stop any suicide bombers at Sunday’s New Year’s Eve celebration, when up to 2 million people will flood the streets of Times Square, officials said on Thursday.

The stepped-up training is in response to an attempted bombing in a Times Square subway station walkway on Dec. 11. It comes on top of increasingly stringent security for the city’s New Year’s Eve celebration in the years since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The New York Police Department will also deploy observation teams trained to spot snipers, increase the number of explosive-detecting dogs and position more officers throughout the area this year.

Police have said they will incorporate lessons learned from what they have labeled as three terrorist attacks in the city in the past 15 months, in addition to their ongoing analysis of all attacks worldwide.

That intelligence will form part of the massive security operation for the “ball drop” celebration, a tradition that dates to 1907 and is now televised around the world.

“You will see an increase in heavy weapons, bomb squad personnel, radiological detection teams, and our technology to include over 1,000 cameras in and around the area of Times Square for the event,” the NYPD’s chief of counterterrorism, James Waters, told a news conference, two days before the event.

Officers involved in the New Year’s Eve security operation will receive a tactical bulletin and a training video on suicide bombers that they will be able to review on their department-issued phones starting Friday.

“We owe it to the cops to give them some kind of guidelines,” Waters said.

The training material will include instructions on protecting bystanders if officers suspect someone has a bomb and guidance on apprehending and disarming suspects with the assistance of the bomb squad, he said.

Police will also be on the lookout for snipers in response to the mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival on Oct. 1, when a 64-year-old American opened fire from his 32nd-floor hotel room, killing 58 people and wounding some 500.

Detectives posted in hotels will keep an eye on guests, and additional emergency services and critical response teams will be on hand, Police Commissioner James O’Neill said.

O’Neill declined to say how many of the department’s 36,000 officers will work on New Year’s Eve, in order to keep would-be attackers guessing.

People who want to see the New Year’s Eve musical acts and other entertainment up close in Times Square will have to pass by dogs trained to detect explosives and heavily armed officers, go through a magnetometer to check for weapons, have their bags inspected, and then repeat all those steps a second time.

Police will again use dump trucks filled with sand, police cars and cement blocks to close streets starting at 11 a.m. on Sunday. About 125 parking garages in the vicinity will be emptied of all cars and sealed.

Even so, police acknowledged a possible suicide bomber could manage to get close to large crowds of people before the checkpoints are set up, as evident by the Dec. 11 attack.

On that day, police said, a Bangladeshi man set off a homemade pipe bomb strapped to his body in a subway pedestrian tunnel beneath Times Square, wounding himself and two bystanders.

Asked how to stop someone with such an intent, Waters said, “As a last resort: deadly physical force.”

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Frank McGurty and Leslie Adler)

Student tax breaks survive the tax bill, make the most of them

Graduates celebrate receiving a Masters in Business Administration from Columbia University during the year's commencement ceremony in New York in this May 18, 2005 file photo. dreams of many college seniors. REUTERS/Chip East/Files

By Gail MarksJarvis

CHICAGO (Reuters) – If you are going to college, getting extra training for a job, or paying off student loans, there are myriad tax breaks worth thousands of dollars to people burdened by college costs.

Although many were threatened in early versions of the tax bills crafted by the Senate and House and Representatives, students can breathe a sigh of relief that the benefits all remain. Tax experts suggest using these strategies before the end of December to get every penny possible:

* Student loan interest deduction

About 12.4 million borrowers make use of this deduction. You can deduct up to $2,500 in interest per year, which can result in tax savings that for some top $600.

The deduction depends on how much you have paid in a single tax year toward your student loans and also depends on your income.

If your loan payments made so far for 2017 do not qualify for the $2,500 maximum deduction and you are still paying off student loans, consider paying more before the end of the year to boost the deduction, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of www.Cappex.com. You can find out how much interest you have paid so far this year from the student loan servicer that collects your monthly payments.

To take the full $2,500 deduction, an individual cannot have a modified adjusted gross income over $65,000, and for couples $135,000. For individuals with incomes up to $80,000 and for married couples earning up to $165,000, smaller deductions apply.

Paying extra by Dec. 31 would be particularly wise if your income next year is likely to put you over the income cutoff, said Gil Charney, director of tax and policy analysis for The Tax Institute at H&R Block.

* College credits

Both the American Opportunity Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit provide tax breaks to help pay for education, but apply to different stages.

For undergrads, the American Opportunity Credit is worth up to $2,500 per year, but can be used only for the first four years of college. Students must attend at least half-time.

If you have not paid enough tuition and fees to qualify for the full credit this year and have been billed for the first quarter or semester in 2018, consider paying the bill now to maximize the 2017 credit, Charney said. The credit covers 100 percent of the first $2,000 in tuition and fees paid in a year; then 25 percent of the next $2,000.

Remember, there are income limits. You can’t get the full credit with modified adjusted gross income over $80,000; $160,000 for couples.

If your income will exceed the limit in 2018 but qualifies in 2017, this would be the year to capture as much as possible.

The same strategy applies to the Lifetime Learning Credit, which is valuable to part-time students, graduate students or workers trying to enhance job opportunities with an extra course or training.

The Lifetime Learning Credit is worth $2,000, or 20 percent of the first $10,000 spent in a year. So consider paying ahead for 2018 education, especially if you are near an income cutoff: over $56,000 in modified adjusted gross income for individuals, or $112,000 for couples for the maximum credit.

Keep in mind that if two spouses are going to school they cannot both claim the $2,000; it is a maximum per household. The American Opportunity Credit is kinder because it applies per student. Parents with three children in college at the same time could claim the credit for each child and do it annually for the four years a child is in an undergraduate program.

For more details, see IRS Publication 970

The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Leslie Adler)

Eyeing Russia, U.S. military shifts toward more global war games

U.S. army soldiers leave Black Hawk helicopter during Suwalki gap defence exercise in Mikyciai, Lithuania, June 17, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

By Andrea Shalal

STUTTGART, Germany (Reuters) – The U.S. military is moving toward more global exercises to better prepare for a more assertive Russia and other worldwide threats, a senior officer said in an interview with Reuters.

Air Force Brigadier General John Healy, who directs exercises for U.S. forces in Europe, said officials realized they needed to better prepare for increasingly complex threats across all domains of war – land, sea, air, space and cyber.

Some smaller-scale war games with a global focus had already occurred, but the goal was to carry out more challenging exercises by fiscal year 2020 that involved forces from all nine U.S. combatant commands – instead of focusing on specific regions or one military service, such as the Marines.

“What we’re eventually going toward is a globally integrated exercise program so that we (are) … all working off the same sheet of music in one combined global exercise,” Healy said in an interview this week.

He said war games and training were imperative to rehearse for possible conflicts and they needed to reflect the global nature of today’s military threats, including cyber warfare.

Healy said Russia was his main focus in Europe, and officials were keeping a close watch on Moscow’s Zapad military exercises that begin next month and which experts say could involve about 100,000 troops.

He said Russian observers attended recent U.S. and NATO exercises in the Black Sea region, but Moscow had not extended a similar invitation to its own war games. “They’re not being as transparent as we are,” he said.

Moscow says its war games will involve less than 13,000 troops and so do not require invitations to outside observers.

Healy said an initial assessment of a range of exercises conducted across Europe this summer with over 40,000 U.S. and allied forces had been positive, but a deeper assessment would be completed in October.

As a deterrent to Russia after its 2014 annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine, U.S. and NATO forces have boosted their presence and training in Europe.

This has included the addition of four NATO battle groups with 1,000 soldiers each in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, all of which have borders with Russia.

Next year, the U.S. military plans 11 major exercises that will take in a range of NATO allies from Iceland to Britain, the Baltic states, and possibly Finland, according to Healy. Those exercises too will bring together air, ground and naval forces.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Hungary to arm new ‘border hunters’ after six-month crash course

Hungarian border hunter recruits take oath during a swearing in ceremony in Budapest, Hungary, March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

By Krisztina Than

BARCS, Hungary (Reuters) – Sandor Jankovics is proud to be joining Hungary’s new “border hunter” force after a six-month crash course to help police and army units keep out migrants, part of a security clamp down that has raised human rights concerns.

Hungary’s southern border with Serbia and Croatia marks the external edge of the European Union’s Schengen zone of passport-free travel. Hundreds of thousands of migrants have entered Hungary via its southern frontier since 2015, though most have moved on westward to more prosperous parts of the EU.

The migrant flow has ebbed greatly since Hungary erected a fence along the southern boundary and the EU struck a deal with Turkey 18 months ago that curbed migration from that country into neighboring Europe.

But nationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who on Tuesday described mainly Muslim migrants as a “Trojan horse for terrorism”, has cited the risk of a new influx from the Balkans and is beefing up his country’s defense.

This week Hungary also passed a law to detain migrants in camps along its border, a step the United Nations said violates EU humanitarian law and will have a “terrible physical and psychological impact” on asylum seekers.

Jankovic, 26, who quit his job as a laborer in nearby Austria last year, will start “border hunter” duty along with almost 1,000 other volunteers within three months.

He is one of dozens undergoing fast-track training at Barcs, a border crossing with fellow EU country Croatia.

Barcs witnessed the apex of the migration crisis in September 2015 when many thousands fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East flooded into Hungary after having passed through Croatia from Serbia.

Now Barcs is eerily quiet, with only a few passing trucks being spot-checked by police. Orban’s security plan focuses on the border with Serbia since Croatia has beefed up its boundary with its Balkan neighbor since 2015.

Jankovics said he had never met a migrant, but looks forward to training patrols and to his deployment with great pride since he had always aspired to becoming a police officer.

CRASH COURSE IN SECURITY

“We will be sent to the stretch of border where we will be needed,” he said. He will get a monthly gross salary of 220,000 forints (£614), well above the minimum of 161,000 forints guaranteed by Hungary for those with secondary education.

Recruits, who must be between 18 and 55 years old, are given training similar to police and learn other skills such as guarding a border fence, detaining large groups of migrants and tracking their paths.

Some multicultural studies are part of the program.

“Initially we started to learn about the major religions of the world, who believes in what,” Jankovics said.

Like police officers, border hunters will carry pistols with live ammunition, batons, pepper spray and handcuffs, and will also be equipped with night-vision goggles if needed.

“The defense of Hungary is the most important for us,” said Adrienn Heronyanyi, 23, a recruit who previously worked in catering.

Hungarian police aim to recruit up to 3,000 border hunters. Recruiting is continuous, including in secondary schools.

In the classroom, the new recruits assemble their pistols at the order of their officer within seconds. In the afternoon, they learn judo skills and moves to handcuff people.

Asked under what conditions border hunters could use force against migrants, regional police chief Attila Piros said the rules were the same as for police – to “break resistance” but only as a last resort.

He said any force must be proportionate and justified. “One of the most important things in this six-month training that we teach as law but in fact has moral and ethical foundations is that criminals are human beings, everybody has human rights.”

MIGRANT “STORM” HAS NOT DIED – ORBAN

At a swearing-in ceremony of border hunters in Budapest on Tuesday, Orban, whose anti-immigrant policies have gone down well with voters, said Hungary had to act to defend itself.

“The storm has not died, it has only subsided temporarily,” he said. “There are still millions waiting to set out on their journey in the hope of a better life (in Europe).”

In addition to the razor-wire border barrier, the government has begun installing a second line of “smart fence” along the Serbian border. Border police said they had detained over 100 illegal migrants in the past 30 days.

Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, voiced alarm at Hungary’s migrant detention plan.

“Automatically depriving all asylum seekers of their liberty would be in clear violation of Hungary’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights,” he said on Wednesday.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said its teams in Serbia were treating a growing number of migrants who reported being beaten and stomped on by Hungarian border guards who intercepted them.

Orban’s government has denied mistreating migrants. His office said eight cases of alleged mistreatment had been investigated but in none “was it proven that refugees had been harmed by border personnel”.

Reuters could not independently verify reports of abuses.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Merkel wants Germany to get refugees into workforce faster

Refugees show their skills in metal processing works during a media tour at a workshop for refugees organized by German industrial group Siemens in Berlin, Germany,

By Georgina Prodhan and Andreas Rinke

FRANKFURT/BERLIN (Reuters) – Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that Germany needed “viable solutions” to integrate refugees into the workforce faster after she met blue-chip companies that have hired just over 100 refugees since around a million arrived last year.

Merkel, her popularity undermined by her open-door policy, summoned the bosses of some of Germany’s biggest companies to Berlin on Wednesday to account for their lack of action and exchange ideas about how they can do better.

Many of the companies contend that a lack of German-language skills, the inability of most refugees to prove any qualifications and uncertainty about their permission to stay in the country mean there is little they can do in the short term.

Merkel told rbb-inforadio that if needed, special provisions could be developed to speed up the integration of refugees into the workforce, but she acknowledged this would still take time.

“Many are in integration courses or waiting to get on them. So I think we will need to show some patience, but must be ready at any time to develop viable solutions,” she said.

A participant at the meeting with Merkel said company executives from DAX firms and small businesses discussed their opinions for 2-1/2 hours and came to the conclusion: “We want to do this”. When talking about the refugee influx, Merkel frequently says: “Wir schaffen das” or “we can do this”.

The meeting spurred some firms to announce more action to help get refugees into the workforce.

Deutsche Bahn [DBN.UL] boss Ruediger Grube said IT would offer 150 extra places in qualification programs for refugees, Volkswagen said it was working with Kiron, a non-profit start-up, to help refugees start a university degree, Thyssenkrupp announced around 150 extra training positions and Daimler announced 50, the source said.

“Wir Zusammen” or “We Together”, an integration initiative of German companies, said much had been achieved to support the arrival of the newcomers but now they had to turn their attention to integrating them into the workforce.

“Now it’s about motivating those companies that are not yet active,” it said in a statement after the summit.

A survey by Reuters of the 30 companies in Germany’s stock index last week found they could point to just 63 refugee hires in total.

Of those, 50 were employed by Deutsche Post DH, which said it applied a “pragmatic approach” and deployed the refugees to sort and deliver letters and parcels.

“Given that around 80 percent of asylum seekers are not highly qualified and may not yet have a high level of German proficiency, we have primarily offered jobs that do not require technical skills or a considerable amount of interaction in German,” a company spokesman said by email.

Deutsche Post’s Chief Executive Frank Appel said on Wednesday the company had now hired more refugees, taking its total to 102.

Several of the 27 firms who responded said they considered it discriminatory to ask about applicants’ migration history, so they did not know whether they employed refugees or how many.

What is clear is that early optimism that the wave of migrants might boost economic growth and help ease a skills shortage in Germany – where the working-age population is projected to shrink by 6 million people by 2030 – is evaporating.

“The employment of refugees is no solution for the skills shortage,” industrial group Thyssenkrupp’s Chief Executive Heinrich Hiesinger said earlier this month.

APPRENTICESHIP BARRIERS

Most large German companies, especially those in manufacturing, prefer to hire through structured apprenticeship programs, in which they train young people for up to four years for highly skilled and sometimes company-specific jobs.

But the recent arrivals from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere are mainly ill-prepared for such training, they say.

The DAX-listed companies surveyed by Reuters were able to identify about 200 apprentices in this or last year’s intake. Many will have been through months of pre-training especially designed for migrants by large companies, such as engineering group Siemens, Mercedes maker Daimler, or automotive technology firm Continental.

Two Syrian interns visited by Reuters at a Siemens power-plant construction site in April applied for apprenticeships, but could not immediately be accepted because they are still in the process of proving their school-leaving qualifications. One is meantime doing temporary work in IT and the other taking German classes.

It is simply too soon to expect large numbers of refugees to have been hired yet, most German companies say.

“Our experience is that it takes a minimum of 18 months for a well-trained refugee to go through the asylum procedure and learn German at an adequate level in order to apply for a job,” said a spokeswoman for Deutsche Telekom.

(Additional reporting by Caroline Copley, Michelle Martin, Paul Carrel, Andreas Rinke and Markus Wacket in Berlin, Jan Schwartz in Hamburg, Matthias Inverardi in Duesseldorf and Harro ten Wolde, Ludwig Burger, Edward Taylor and Tina Bellon in Frankfurt; editing by Ralph Boulton)