Trump says U.S. may release parts of Baghdadi raid video

Trump says U.S. may release parts of Baghdadi raid video
By Steve Holland and Andrew Osborn

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he may declassify and release part of the video taken on Saturday of the raid in Syria in which Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed.

The video is believed to include aerial footage and possibly footage from cameras mounted on the soldiers who stormed Baghdadi’s compound.

“We’re thinking about it. We may,” Trump told reporters before flying to Chicago. “We may take certain parts of it and release it.”

Trump said on Sunday that Baghdadi had died “whimpering and crying” in a raid by U.S. special forces in Syria, fulfilling his top national security goal.

World leaders welcomed Baghdadi’s death, but said the campaign against Islamic State, a group that carried out atrocities in the name of a fanatical version of Islam, was not over, with so-called lone wolves likely to seek revenge.

Baghdadi, who had led the jihadist group since 2010, killed himself by detonating a suicide vest after fleeing into a dead-end tunnel as U.S. forces closed in, Trump said in a televised address from the White House.

“He was a sick and depraved man and now he’s gone,” said Trump. “He died … whimpering and crying and screaming.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to say if the United States had told Russia about the operation in advance.

But he added: “If this information is confirmed we can talk about a serious contribution by the president of the United States to the fight against international terrorism.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said Baghdadi’s death was a major blow against Islamic State but “the fight continues to finally defeat this terrorist organization”.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We will work with our coalition partners to bring an end to the murderous, barbaric activities of Daesh (Islamic State) once and for all.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters: “This is a many-headed monster … As you cut one off, another one inevitably arises.”

In Southeast Asia, an important focus for Islamic State, officials said security forces were preparing for a long battle to thwart the group’s ideology.

The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, home to some of Asia’s most organized Islamist militants, said they were braced for retaliation by Islamic State loyalists, including “lone wolf” attacks by radicalized locals.

CAPABLE AND DANGEROUS

Though Baghdadi’s death will unsettle Islamic State, it remains capable and dangerous, said Delfin Lorenzana, defense secretary of the Philippines, where the group’s influence has taken a hold in its troubled Mindanao region.

“This is a blow to the organization considering al-Baghdadi’s stature as a leader. But this is just a momentary setback considering the depth and reach of the organization worldwide,” Lorenzana said. “Somebody will take his place.”

Islamic State has no declared successor as leader. But the group has in the past proved resilient, continuing to mount or inspire attacks in the region and beyond despite losing most of its territory in recent years.

Baghdadi had long been sought by the United States – which offered a $25 million reward – as leader of a jihadist group that at one point controlled large areas of Syria and Iraq, where it declared a caliphate.

Islamic State has brutally attacked religious minorities and launched deadly strikes on five continents in a violent campaign that horrified most Muslims.

In their long hunt for Baghdadi, Iraqi intelligence teams secured a break in February 2018 after one of his top aides gave them information on how he escaped capture for so many years, two Iraqi security officials said.

Baghdadi held strategy talks with his commanders in moving minibuses packed with vegetables in order to avoid detection, Ismael al-Ethawi told officials after he was arrested by Turkish authorities and handed to the Iraqis.

“Ethawi gave valuable information which helped the Iraqi multi-security agencies team complete the missing pieces of the puzzle of Baghdadi’s movements and places he used to hide,” one of the Iraqi security officials said.

Iraqi security officials said Kurdish intelligence agents had exchanged information with counterparts in Baghdad on the movements of Baghdadi and his aides in Syria. One of the Kurds’ sources passed on a “golden tip” earlier this year.

Suspicious movements were spotted by locals at house in a village in Syria, which was placed under surveillance and turned out to be the house used by Baghdadi, the Iraqi officials said.

U.S. PULLBACK

The raid on Baghdadi comes weeks after Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, which permitted Turkey to attack America’s Kurdish allies as it sought to set up a “safe zone”.

Critics expressed concern at the abandoning of the Kurdish fighters who were instrumental in defeating Islamic State in Syria, and said the move might allow the group to regain strength and pose a threat to U.S. interests.

Trump said the raid would not change his decision to withdraw troops from Syria.

But killing Baghdadi could help blunt those concerns, as well as boosting Trump domestically at a time when he is facing an impeachment inquiry in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Regional allies welcomed the operation, with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan saying it marked “a turning point in our joint fight against terrorism”.

Turkey’s military was in intense coordination with U.S. counterparts on the night of the raid, a presidential spokesman said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praising an “impressive achievement”. Saudi Arabia also offered praise.

Egypt, which is fighting militants loyal to Islamic State, said the killing of Baghdadi is “an important step toward eradicating terrorism”.

U.S. foe Iran, which accuses the United States and its allies of creating Islamic State, was dismissive. Information Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi, tweeted: “Not a big deal, You just killed your creature”.

NIGHT-TIME RAID

In the hours before Trump’s announcement, sources in the region had described the raid on a compound in the village of Barisha, in Idlib province bordering Turkey, in the early hours of Sunday.

Trump said eight helicopters carried U.S. special forces to Baghdadi’s compound, where they were met with gunfire before blasting their way in.

The president said he watched the operation in the Situation Room of the White House.

At the height of its power, Islamic State ruled over millions of people from northern Syria to the outskirts of Baghdad.

Thousands of civilians were killed by the group as it mounted what the United Nations called a genocidal campaign against Iraq’s Yazidi minority. It also caused worldwide revulsion by beheading foreign nationals from countries including the United States, Britain and Japan.

The group has claimed responsibility for or inspired attacks in cities including Paris, Nice, Orlando, Manchester, London and Berlin, and in Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Khalil Ashawi in Syria, Katanga Johnson in Washington, Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Ahmed Rasheed and Ahmed Aboulenein in Baghdad, Samia Nakhoul, Ellen Francis and Lisa Barrington in Beirut, Orhan Coskun in Ankara and Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul, Mahmoud Mourad in Cairo, and Reuters TV, Writing by Giles Elgood, Editing by William Maclean and Mike Collett-White)

Police seek motive in shooting at Florida video game contest

Police officers cordon off a street outside The Jacksonville Landing after a shooting during a video game tournament in Jacksonville, Florida August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Joey Roulette

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Reuters) – Police on Monday were trying to determine why a gunman opened fire at a Jacksonville, Florida, video game tournament, killing two people and injuring 11 others before fatally shooting himself.

The Sunday shooting immediately became an issue in Florida primary elections set for Tuesday when voters choose candidates for governor and the U.S. House of Representatives. Some Democrats called for stricter gun laws while other candidates canceled events.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office identified the shooter as David Katz, 24, of Baltimore, and said they found his body near those of his two alleged victims at The Landing, a popular riverside shopping and dining location. The shooting broke out during a regional qualifier for the Madden 19 online football game tournament at the GLHF Game Bar and witnesses told local media Katz was angry because he lost the tournament.

It was not clear if Katz knew his victims.

Local media identified the dead victims as Eli Clayton, 22, of Woodland Hills, California, and Taylor Robertson, 27, of Ballard, West Virginia. Both had been competitors in the tournament, local media reported, citing family of the victims.

Robertson, a husband and father, won the tournament last year and Katz won it the year before, the Miami Herald reported, citing family and friends posting on the Internet.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s office said nine people were wounded by gunfire and at least two others were injured while fleeing the scene. Officials did not respond to calls seeking updated information on Monday.

Taylor Poindexter speaks to reporters after witnessing a gunman open fire on gamers participating in a video game tournament outside The Jacksonville Landing in Jacksonville, Florida August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Joey Roulette

Taylor Poindexter speaks to reporters after witnessing a gunman open fire on gamers participating in a video game tournament outside The Jacksonville Landing in Jacksonville, Florida August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Joey Roulette

FLORIDA HISTORY OF SHOOTINGS

Six months ago 17 students and educators were gunned down at a high school in Parkland, Florida, an incident that inflamed the United States’ long-running debate over gun rights.

In 2016 a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in the second-deadliest shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history.

The Sunday attack drew immediate statements from two Democratic candidates for governor – former U.S. Representative Gwen Graham and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

“We need to end these mass shootings – and the only way to do that is to vote out the politicians complicit in this cycle of death,” Graham said on Sunday on Twitter. Levine sounded a similar note, saying, “It’s time for new leaders.”

Graham and Levine are seeking the office currently held by Republican Governor Rick Scott, who in turn is challenging Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson.

The leading contenders for the Republican nomination for governor, U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis and state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, canceled campaign events and urged cooperation with law enforcement.

The bar was livestreaming the gaming competition when the gunfire started, according to video shared on social media. In the video, players can be seen reacting to the shots and cries can be heard before the footage cuts off.

Taylor Poindexter and her boyfriend, Marquis Williams, who had traveled from Chicago to attend the tournament, fled when the gunfire erupted. She said she saw Katz take aim at his victims.

“We did see him, two hands on the gun, walking back, just popping rounds,” Poindexter told reporters. “I was scared for my life and my boyfriend’s.”

Another gamer, Chris “Dubby” McFarland, was hospitalized after a bullet grazed his head. “I feel fine, just a scratch on my head. Traumatized and devastated,” he wrote on Twitter.

Jacksonville Memorial Hospital is treating three people wounded in the attack, said spokesman Peter Moberg. All were listed in good condition and one was expected to be discharged later on Monday, he said.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette in Jacksonville Fla., Rich McKay in Atlanta and Gina Cherelus in New York; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Alison Williams and Bill Trott)

Texas serial bomber made video confession before blowing himself up: police

Law enforcement personnel investigate the scene where the Texas bombing suspect blew himself up on the side of a highway north of Austin in Round Rock, Texas, U.S., March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Loren E

By Jon Herskovitz

PFLUGERVILLE, Texas (Reuters) – The serial bomber whose deadly attacks terrorized Austin, Texas, for weeks left a 25-minute video “confession” on a cell phone found after he blew himself up on Wednesday as officers closed in to make an arrest, police said.

Texas blast suspect Mark Anthony Conditt. Austin Community College/via REUTERS

Texas blast suspect Mark Anthony Conditt. Austin Community College/via REUTERS

Mark Conditt, 23, an unemployed man from the suburb of Pflugerville, detailed how he made all seven bombs that have been accounted for – five that exploded, one that was recovered before it went off and a seventh that he detonated as officers rushed his vehicle early on Wednesday.

But the video failed to reveal a coherent motive for the attacks spread over the past three weeks, police said.

“He does not at all mention anything about terrorism, nor does he mention anything about hate, but instead it is the outcry of a very challenged young man, talking about challenges in his personal life,” Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told reporters.

“I would classify this as a confession,” Manley said.

Conditt, who had never before been in trouble with the law, killed two people and wounded five with a campaign of violence that began on March 2, authorities said.

Based on their search of the suspect’s home and his video statement, authorities said they felt confident that there were no other bombs and that the public was safe from further harm.

FBI special agent Christopher Combs said investigators believe the suspect would have continued his attacks had he not been apprehended.

Police recovered a “target list” of addresses for future bombings, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing U.S. Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Even so, the video gave no explanation for the individuals and addresses singled out as recipients of the bombs that were planted or shipped, Manley said.

Police previously said they had considered the possibility that the attacks were racially motivated, noting that the first several victims, including the two who died, were either African-American or Hispanic.

Conditt likely recorded the video between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Tuesday. According to Manley, Conditt said he believed police “were getting very close to him,” and he was right. Authorities filed a criminal complaint and issued an arrest warrant around that time.

A surveillance image shows the serial bombing suspect inside a FedEx office store in Austin, Texas, U.S., which was given to law enforcement and obtained by TV station, WOAI/KABB, March 21, 2018. Courtesy of WOAI/KABB/Handout via Reuters

A surveillance image shows the serial bombing suspect inside a FedEx office store in Austin, Texas, U.S., which was given to law enforcement and obtained by TV station, WOAI/KABB, March 21, 2018. Courtesy of WOAI/KABB/Handout via Reuters

By Wednesday morning, police had tracked Conditt to a hotel and were waiting for the arrival of tactical units and equipment before they planned to make an arrest, Manley said. But then Conditt drove away.

Police followed and decided to stop him before he got on the highway. Just as officers approached the vehicle, the explosion went off, Manley said. There was also some police shooting.

“This can never be called a happy ending, but it’s a damn good one for the people of this community, the people of the state of Texas,” Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore told reporters.

Residents in Austin, a city of 1 million people and a liberal enclave of university students and tech companies, voiced relief that the hunt for the serial bomber was over.

“I am going to be leery and extra careful tomorrow at work, but I feel relieved now,” said Jesus Borjon, 44, an employee of parcel delivery firm UPS, who lives in Pflugerville.

Austin was hosting thousands of out-of-town visitors for its annual South by Southwest festival of music, film and technology when the first bombings occurred.

Law enforcement personnel investigate the surroundings of a house linked to the bomber in Pflugerville, Texas, U.S., March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

TRAIL OF CLUES

The trail of clues leading hundreds of investigators to the serial bomber ranged from store receipts and fragments of booby-trapped packages to surveillance video of the suspect in a hat and wig.

Experts scoured the suspect’s home for further evidence on Wednesday, removing explosive materials and bomb components.

“I wouldn’t call it a bomb-making factory, but there’s definitely components consistent with what we’ve seen in all these other devices,” Fred Milanowski, special agent in charge of Houston office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told reporters.

Investigators evacuated a four-block radius around Conditt’s house while they searched the home, which Conditt shared with two roommates who had been detained for questioning. Conditt moved in a year ago after leaving his parents’ home about a mile (1.6 km) away, public records showed.

One law enforcement official involved in the investigation but speaking on condition of anonymity told Reuters that some of the materials found in remnants of the bombs were traced back to where they had been sold.

The source also said investigators, once they had identified Conditt as a potential suspect, obtained a warrant to monitor his Google search history.

Surveillance video showed the suspect in a hat and a blond wig, as he prepared to ship one of two booby-trapped packages he was known to have sent through FedEx Corp’s delivery service, according to the source.

He used the alias “Kelly Killmore” to ship those packages, ABC News reported, citing unnamed law enforcement sources.

Conditt, who was home-schooled, described himself as a conservative but said he was not politically inclined, according to blog posts he wrote as part of a U.S. politics class at Austin Community College. He attended from 2010 to 2012 and had no record of any disciplinary actions, the school said.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Mark Hosenball in Washington, Jonathan Allen and Gina Cherelus in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Peter Cooney & Simon Cameron-Moore)

Assad films himself driving to Ghouta to demonstrate victory

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reaches out to shake the hand of a Syrian army soldier in eastern Ghouta, Syria, March 18, 2018. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

BEIRUT (Reuters) – President Bashar al-Assad flaunted government advances in Syria’s seven-year war by filming himself driving to meet frontline soldiers near Damascus, making a video of the journey from the city center into areas recently recaptured.

“The road is open… everything is running now in the city and in Syria,” he said in the video, describing a road that had previously been cut by sniper fire and saying it was now easier to travel around the country.

The video, released overnight after a trip on Sunday, showed Assad in sunglasses at the wheel of his Honda car, speaking about the government’s increasing strength as peaceful scenery behind him gave way to battle-scarred concrete.

His visit to the battle front in eastern Ghouta, where state television showed him cheered by soldiers as smoke rose in the distance, came after tens of thousands of civilians began fleeing the opposition area for government lines.

The army offensive began a month ago with a massive bombardment and has so far retaken most of the area, the biggest rebel enclave near Damascus, cutting it into three zones.

It is the latest in a series of military gains for Assad after Russia entered the war on his side in 2015, ending rebel hopes of toppling him by force. Large areas remain outside his grip, but he now controls the main cities of Syria’s heavily-populated west.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad walks with Syrian army soldiers in eastern Ghouta, Syria, March 18, 2018. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad walks with Syrian army soldiers in eastern Ghouta, Syria, March 18, 2018. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

IN CONTROL

“This is the picture he wants to give… he is in control and finishing off the opposition in eastern Ghouta,” said Nikolaos Van Dam, a former diplomat in Syria and author of two books on the country.

While Assad has increasingly been shown traveling around Syria in recent years, it is unusual for him to visit areas close to the battlefront, as he did on Sunday, meeting cheering soldiers as well as civilians who had escaped the fighting.

There have been numerous other signs of his increasing confidence, including the release last year of a banknote bearing his image for the first time since he became president in 2000.

Wearing a suit without a tie and speaking informally to the in-car camera, Assad gave a running commentary on the areas he was driving through and discussed the military campaign.

He drove into eastern Ghouta from the east – the direction from which the army campaign began a month ago – into the district of Jisreen, which was captured late on Friday.

“When we see that people are returning to the state, it affirms what we are saying: that people want the state, and the state is the mother and father of everybody,” he said as he passed civilians who had left the rebel enclave.

His government and its ally Russia describe the opposition as terrorists and the population in rebel-held areas as human shields for armed groups.

The opposition says residents of eastern Ghouta – an early center of the uprising against Assad – do not want to return to his rule for fear of persecution, which he denies would happen.

Speaking to the camera as his car passed from fields into a town pocked with shell holes, Assad said Syria’s long-term challenge would be to “rehabilitate” children brought up under rebel rule.

“This generation has lived five years with dark thoughts, and with elements that resemble the days of the Middle Ages,” he said, saying they needed to be brought back “onto the right path”.

He said their lost education was the price of the war. “It can’t be avoided one way or another,” he said.

(Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Peter Graff)

Escape from North Korea: video shows defector under fire

Escape from North Korea: video shows defector under fire

By Haejin Choi and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – A North Korean border guard briefly crossed the border with the South in the chase for a defector last week – a violation of the ceasefire accord between North and South, a video released on Wednesday by the U.N. Command (UNC) in Seoul showed.

The North Koreans were only steps behind the young man when they shot him at least four times as he made his escape on Nov. 13. The video, filmed as the defector drove an army truck through the demilitarized zone and then abandoned the vehicle, gives a dramatic insight into his escape.

The defector, identified by a surgeon as a 24-year-old with the family name Oh, was flown by a U.S. military helicopter to a hospital in Suwon, south of Seoul. Doctors said he had regained consciousness, having had two operations to extract the bullets, and his breathing was stable and unassisted.

“He is fine,” lead surgeon Lee Cook-Jong said at a news conference in Suwon. “He is not going to die.”

A UNC official said North Korea had been informed on Wednesday that it had violated the 1953 armistice agreement, which marked the cessation of hostilities in the Korean War.

The UNC official told a news conference that a soldier from the North Korean People’s Army (KPA) had crossed the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), the border between the two Koreas, for a few seconds as others fired shots at the defecting soldier.

“The key findings of the special investigation team are that the KPA violated the armistice agreement by one, firing weapons across the MDL, and two, by actually crossing the MDL temporarily,” Chad Carroll, Director of Public Affairs for the UNC, told reporters.

The incident comes at a time of heightened tensions between North Korea and the international community over its nuclear weapons program, but Pyongyang has not publicly responded to the defection.

The video, released by the UNC, was produced from surveillance cameras on the southern side of the the Joint Security Area (JSA) inside the demilitarized zone. When tree cover is too dense to see the wounded defector crawling across the border, it switches to infra-red.

DESPERATE ESCAPE

The film begins with a lone dark green army jeep speeding along empty, tree-lined roads toward the border.

At one checkpoint, a North Korean guard marches impassively toward the approaching vehicle. It races by. He runs in pursuit.

After passing a memorial to North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, where tourists often gather, the jeep runs into a ditch just meters from the border, which is not clearly marked.

For several minutes the driver tries to free the vehicle, but the wheels spin uselessly in fallen leaves.

The driver abandons the vehicle and sprints away, pushing tree branches out of his way and sending leaves flying.

He scrambles up a slope to cross just seconds before more guards appear, shooting as they run.

One slides into a pile of dead leaves to open fire before running forward and appearing to briefly cross the dividing line between the two countries. He quickly turns on his heel.

The video does not show the moment the defector is hit, but he is seen lying in a pile of brush next to a concrete wall in a later edited clip.

The UNC’s Carroll said the position was still exposed to North Korean checkpoints across the border.

Allied troops operating the cameras had by then notified their commanders and a quick reaction force had assembled on the South Korean side, according to Carroll. The video does not show this force.

Infrared imagery shows two South Korean soldiers crawling through undergrowth to drag the wounded North Korean to safety, while the deputy commander of the border security unit oversees the rescue from a few meters away.

LONG RECOVERY

Doctors have conducted a series of surgeries to remove four bullets from the critically wounded soldier, who arrived at the hospital having lost a large amount of blood.

“From a medical point of view he was almost dead when he was first brought here,” said the surgeon, Lee.

Hospital officials said the man remains in intensive care.

The soldier showed signs of depression and possible trauma, in addition to a serious case of parasites that has complicated his treatment, the hospital said in a statement. Lee said last week one of the flesh-colored parasites he removed from the soldier’s digestive tract was 27 cm (10.6 in) long.

Continuing stress made the soldier hesitant to talk, but he had been cooperative, doctors said.

The patient first recovered consciousness on Sunday, and asked where he was in South Korea, Lee said. He was in “agony” when he came to, the surgeon added.

Since then doctors have played South Korean pop music for him, and American action movies including “The Transporter” from 2002.

On average more than 1,000 North Koreans defect to the South every year, but most travel via China and numbers have fallen since Kim Jong Un came to power in 2011. It is unusual for a North Korean to cross the land border dividing the two Koreas. They have been in a technical state of war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The last time a North Korean soldier had defected across the JSA was in 2007.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Christine Kim, and James Pearson; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Sara Ledwith)

Islamic State releases video it says shows two Russians captured in Syria

By Omar Fahmy

CAIRO (Reuters) – Islamic State released a video on Tuesday that it said showed two Russian soldiers captured by its fighters in the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor, where Russia has been backing the Syrian military against militants.

But the Russian Defence Ministry denied their soldiers had been captured, Interfax news agency reported. The defense ministry, and the foreign ministry, did not immediately respond to requests for comment submitted by Reuters.

In the 42-second video, released on the group’s AMAQ news agency, two men appeared briefly in a room wearing gray tunics. One, with a beard, appeared to be in handcuffs. The other seemed to have bruises on his face.

Reuters could not immediately verify the video.

The bearded man spoke in Russian, the other remained silent, with Arabic subtitles in the video. It was dated Oct. 3, though there was no other evidence when the video was made.

The bearded man, speaking to the camera, gave his name, his date of birth, and his home village in southern Russia. He then said: “I was taken prisoner during a counter-offensive by Islamic State.”

He said he was taken prisoner with a second man, whose name, date of birth and home district he also gave.

Amaq said late last month the militants captured two Russians as they battled in towns around Deir al-Zor. The Russian defense ministry denied then that any military personnel were taken hostage.

With Russian air power and Iran-backed militias, the Syrian army reached Deir al-Zor city in August, breaking an Islamic State siege of an enclave there that had lasted three years as the jihadist group lost ground in Iraq and Syra.

With U.S.-led jets and special forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias is battling Islamic State on the east side of the Euphrates river, as they also capture swathes of Deir al-Zor province from Islamic State.

(Reporting by Omar Fahmy in CAIRO and Margarita Popova in MOSCOW; Writing by Amina Ismail and Patrick Markey; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

Chicago policemen plead not guilty to cover-up in shooting of black teen

A Chicago police officer attends a news conference announcing the department's plan to hire nearly 1,000 new police officers in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.

By Chris Kenning and Suzannah Gonzales

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Three current and former Chicago police officers pleaded not guilty on Monday to felony charges of conspiring to cover up the fatal shooting of an African-American teenager by a white officer, a killing that sparked days of protests.

Detective David March and Officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney were each charged last month with conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice.

The men entered their pleas at their arraignment in a packed Chicago courtroom before Circuit Judge Diane Gordon Cannon. The next hearing is Aug. 29.

The indictments arose from the 2014 incident in which Laquan McDonald, 17, was shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke. Video footage of the incident showed he was shot as he walked away from police while holding a pocket knife.

March, Walsh and Gaffney, who were on the scene the night of the shooting, are alleged to have conspired to conceal the facts of McDonald’s killing to protect their fellow officer from criminal investigation and prosecution, according to prosecutors.

A police dash-cam video of the shooting, released more than a year after the incident, led to days of protests and thrust Chicago into a national debate over the use of excessive force by police against minorities. The indictment said the officers created false reports on the killing of McDonald.

Walsh and March are no longer with the force. Gaffney was suspended without pay, Chicago police representatives said. All three men are white.

Tom Breen, Walsh’s lawyer, told reporters that his client would be acquitted. The judge set bond at $50,000 and released the men on the their own recognizance.

Van Dyke, accused of murder in the McDonald shooting, pleaded not guilty in 2015. In March, he pleaded not guilty to 16 new counts of aggravated battery. No trial date has been set.

The cases come after Chicago police in May finalized stricter limits on when officers can use firearms and other force, the latest attempt to reform a department roiled by misconduct and criticism in the wake of McDonald’s death.

Last month, members of Black Lives Matter and other groups sued the city to force federal court oversight of those reforms.

“Until people, particularly police officers that do wrong, are held accountable and arrested and put in jail, until that happens there will be no trust among the community and law enforcement,” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger, an activist who was at the hearing.

 

(Editing by Frank McGurty and Matthew Lewis)

 

Islamic State says it beheads Russian officer in Syria: SITE

DUBAI (Reuters) – Islamic State has issued a video showing the beheading of what it described as a Russian intelligence officer captured in Syria, the U.S.-based SITE monitoring website reported on Tuesday.

The Russian Defence Ministry and the FSB security service were not immediately available for comment, but a Russian senator said that “there will be hell to pay” if the recording was proven to be authentic.

The 12-minute Russian-language video, released on the day Russia celebrated the anniversary of the 1945 victory over Nazi Germany with military parades, showed the man dressed in a black jump suit kneeling in a desert scene and urging other Russian agents to surrender.

“This idiot believed the promises of his state not to abandon him if he was captured,” a narrator says in the recording, before being beheaded by a bearded man dressed in combat fatigues.

The authenticity of the recording and the identity of the man could not immediately be verified, nor was it clear when the killing occurred.

Russian senator Viktor Ozerov, who heads the defense committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said the defense ministry would check the authenticity of the video.

“Even if it is a fake, it shouldn’t be left without attention,” Ozerov told Russia’s Interfax news agency. “If it happened, then there will be hell to pay.”

Russian forces are backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his war with rebels and militants seeking to oust him. The video showed scenes of what it described as the aftermath of Russian bombing raids in Syria.

The Russian defense ministry says about 30 Russian servicemen have been killed since the start of the Kremlin’s operation there in September 2015.

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi in Dubai and Alexander Winning in Moscow; editing by Ralph Boulton)

North Korean mock-up birthday video shows missiles blowing up U.S.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves to people cheering during an opening ceremony of a newly constructed residential complex in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

By Ju-min Park

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea put on a musical show to mark the birthday of founding father Kim Il Sung, which ended with a mock-up video of missiles engulfing the United States in flames, prompting cheers from the audience and smiles from current leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korea’s state television aired footage of a choral performance attended by Kim Jong Un, the elder Kim’s grandson, on Sunday, a day after a huge military parade in Pyongyang, which also marked the 105th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung.

The singing was followed by footage of its test-firing of a missile in February which, in the video, was joined by other missiles shooting into sky, passing over the Pacific and exploding in giant balls of flames in the United States.

The video ended with a picture of the American flag in flames, overlapping row after row of white crosses in a cemetery. (http://reut.tv/2orqo6d)

“When the performance was over, all the performers and participants in the military parade broke into enthusiastic cheers of ‘hurrah!’,” state run KCNA news agency said.

State TV footage showed leader Kim smiling and waving in return.

“The Dear Supreme Leader waved back to them and congratulated the artistes on their successful performance,” KCNA said.

North Korea said in February that it had successfully tested a new type of medium- to long-range ballistic missile, the Pukguksong-2, propelled by a solid-fuel engine.

During Saturday’s military parade it displayed what appeared to be new intercontinental ballistic missiles. And a day later it conducted a failed missile test, which drew international condemnation.

North Korea regularly threatens to destroy the United States and amid heightened tension on the Korean peninsula, it has escalated a war of words, warning of full-out nuclear war if Washington takes military action against it.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, on a trip to Asia, has repeatedly warned that the “era of strategic patience” with North Korea is over and on Wednesday said it would meet any attack with an “overwhelming response”.

(Editing by Nick Macfie & Simon Cameron-Moore)

Video poses new questions about 2014 Ferguson police shooting

Police line up in front of the Ferguson Market Liquor during a protest, following a release of previously undisclosed video of Michael Brown

(Reuters) – Previously undisclosed video of Michael Brown, recorded hours before the unarmed black 18-year-old was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, has raised new questions about his final hours.

The footage shows Brown – whose death in 2014 prompted national protests and kindled a debate about how U.S. police treat minorities – at a convenience store the night before he was killed. It was unearthed by a documentary filmmaker, according to the New York Times.

Shortly after Brown’s death, local police released video of a later visit to the same store, Ferguson Market and Liquor, which showed Brown pushing a worker before walking out with cigarillos in an apparent robbery.

Brown’s family and protesters criticized the release of the video as an effort to demonize the teenager.

Witnesses have given conflicting accounts of his deadly encounter a short time later by police officer Darren Wilson. Local and federal investigations cleared Wilson of criminal wrongdoing.

The new video, which appears in the documentary “Stranger Fruit,” an extract of which was published by the Times, shows Brown in an earlier, seemingly more amicable exchange.

The video shows Brown giving store employees what appears to be a small bag, the contents of which the employees pass around and sniff. One employee gives Brown two boxes of cigarillos in a carrier bag.

Brown takes a few steps away before turning back and handing the bag back to an employee who appears to stash it behind the counter.

Jason Pollock, the documentary filmmaker, said the video shows Brown exchanging marijuana for cigarillos and undermines the police account that Brown may have robbed the store.

“Mike traded the store a little bag of weed and got two boxes of cigarillos in return,” Pollock says in the documentary. “He left his items at the store and he went back the next day to pick them up. Mike did not rob the store.”

Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, also appears in the documentary, saying, “There was some type of exchange, for one thing, for another.”

Jay Kanzler, a lawyer for the convenience store, was quoted by the Times as disputing the filmmaker’s explanation, saying the store did not exchange anything with Brown.

“The reason he gave it back is he was walking out the door with unpaid merchandise and they wanted it back,” Kanzler was quoted as saying.

Kanzler did not respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Bernadette Baum)