Thursday, March 23, 2017

Arms smugglers used postal service to deliver weapons from US to Russia – FSB

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has arrested alleged arms smugglers in nationwide raids, saying the suspects have used international postal services to ship weapons from the US to Russia.

Several Russian citizens suspected of firearms trafficking were detained during a series of special operations in March in Moscow, as well as in parts of central Russia and Siberia, the FSB reported on Thursday.

A large number of firearms were seized, including machine guns, US-made AR-15 assault rifles, Glock and Colt pistols and revolvers, as well as Mauser and other guns with large amounts of supporting ammunition and component parts, the FSB said.

International postal shipments were used by the suspected criminal group to smuggle the weapons into Russia from the US, the state agency said.

Two backstreet workshops in Russia were operated to modernize the firearms, the FSB added.

Criminal cases on arms trafficking have been launched, the agency reported, saying that while investigative work on the case proceeds, the FSB continues to block illegal arms supply chains from abroad.

Israeli officer filmed assaulting Palestinian driver, police open probe

Israeli police have launched an investigation after an officer was filmed assaulting a Palestinian truck driver in East Jerusalem. 

The police authorities have described the officer’s behaviour as “shameful.”

Footage published on Thursday shows an Israeli police officer head-butting, kicking and slapping a 50-year-old Palestinian truck driver.

“I got to work this morning in my truck which is by the Interior Ministry in the Wadi Joz neighborhood, as always,” said the truck driver, Mazen Shwiki, as quoted by the Jerusalem Post.

He said that the policeman had accused him of hitting his parked car and refused to accept any apologies.

"The policeman started to curse me and used derogatory language, and then he butted my head and started hitting me for no reason. 

All that, even though I admitted that I hit his car," Shwiki recollected.

Ahmad al-Tawil, who reportedly witnessed the assault, told the Ma’an News website that said he tried to stop the officer, but was also beaten.

The video has been sent to Israeli police, who have opened an investigation into the incident.

“The behavior of the police officer filmed violently attacking a resident of East Jerusalem is extremely severe and shameful,” said Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, the Jerusalem Post quotes. 

“Behavior like this damages the whole police force and the officer's immediate suspension was appropriate. 

There is no place for this kind of behavior in the police, and I hope that the police internal investigation unit will use the full extent of the law against this misconduct.”

There have been other incidents involving excessive violence by Israeli security forces towards Palestinians in East Jerusalem. 

Recently a Palestinian teen was shot in the chest by Israeli forces at the Shufat camp in occupied East Jerusalem. 

The forces accused the teen of throwing stones at military vehicles.

A nine-year-old girl was seriously injured at the Qalandia checkpoint between the West Bank and East Jerusalem, after she was shot in the foot for carrying a bag in a “suspicious manner.”

Former Russian lawmaker shot dead in central Kiev

Former Russian lawmaker Denis Voronenkov has been shot and killed in central Kiev, Ukrainian police have said.

“There was an exchange of fire in front of the entrance to the Premier-Palace Hotel about 40 minutes ago. One man was killed and two other persons were injured. 

The identity of the killed man has been established. 

He is a Russian politician, a former State Duma member. Yes, I can confirm that he is Denis Voronenkov," the head of Kiev police, Andrey Krishchenko, said, as cited by TASS.

Krishchenko said the assailant injured Voronenkov’s bodyguard, who fired at him in return.

"[The suspect]  is under police protection, he is being given priority medical assistance at a hospital," Krishchenko told reporters.

The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office confirmed that the suspect has died, TASS reported.

Police have established his identity, saying he was a Ukrainian national.

Ukraine’s security forces will take Voronenkov’s wife, Maria Maksakova, under protection along with Ilya Ponomaryov, another former Russian lawmaker living in Kiev, Prosecutor General Yury Lutsenko said.

Srdja Trifkovic, a Chronicles Magazine journalist, believes the whole situation is “rather murky” and is reminiscent of “a classical mafia hit.”

“Mysteriously, in December, two months after arriving in Kiev, he [Voronenkov] was granted Ukrainian citizenship. 

One has to wonder what kind of favors he has done to Poroshenko and the regime in Kiev to warrant such extraordinary treatment,” Trifkovic said in an interview with said.

He also noted that he wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that the Ukrainian government was behind the murder, since Voronenkov “had much more utility dead than alive,” enabling Kiev to lay the blame on Moscow.

Voronenkov, a former member of the Russian Communist Party, emigrated from Russia to Ukraine in October 2016. 

He received Ukrainian citizenship in December, having given up his status as a Russian citizen. He was highly critical of the Russian authorities.

Voronenkov had been on a federal wanted list in Russia since February 15, as well as on an international wanted list since February 27, charged with masterminding a large-scale fraud.

The fugitive lawmaker's alleged corruption also featured in an investigation by Russian opposition figure Aleksey Navalny, who had reportedly discovered that Voronenkov had far more assets than his officially-declared yearly income of 2.4 million rubles (about $41,700).

The former lawmaker was shot twice in the head when he was on the corner of Taras Shevchenko Boulevard and Pushkinska Street, near the main entrance to Kiev’s Premier Palace Hotel.

Ukrainian law enforcers immediately said they believe Russia is behind Voronenkov’s killing.

“Considering the identity of the victim, as one of the priority versions we consider the actions of the Russian Federation aimed at eliminating this person as a person who gave important testimony in the processes that took place in Ukraine,” the deputy head of the National Police of Ukraine, Aleksandr Vakulenko, told the press, as cited by Interfax Ukraine.

Less than an hour after the killing, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called it "an act of Russian state-funded terrorism," according to his press secretary. 

Poroshenko went on to link Voronenkov’s killing and the massive explosion at an ammunition depot in the Kharkov region of Ukraine that happened late on Wednesday night and continued into Thursday.

“It is no coincidence that the murder took place on the same day as the sabotage at Balakleya in the Kharkov region of Ukraine,” Poroshenko said, as quoted by his press secretary, Svyatoslav Tsegolko, in a Facebook post.

On Wednesday night a fire broke out at several storage sites for rocket and artillery weapons in the Ukrainian town of Balakleya. 

Due to the detonation of munitions close to populated areas, some 20,000 people had to be evacuated. 

Ukrainian authorities have launched two criminal cases, alleging “sabotage” and “negligence.”

Earlier, Anatoly Matios, the chief military prosecutor of Ukraine, wrote on Facebook that according to preliminary data, the explosion and fire were the direct result of sabotage.

Russia has rebuffed accusations of links to Voronenkov's killing.

"We believe that any notion of a notorious Russian trail in the murder of former State Duma deputy Denis Voronenkov are absurd," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

"We hope that the assailant and those who are behind his actions will be identified," Peskov added.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called Voronenkov’s murder a “deliberate contract murder.”

“Moscow is shocked by the information on the cruel murder of the former State Duma deputy, Denis Voronenkov, in the center of Kiev on March 23. 

The data available so far suggests that it was a deliberate contract murder…” Zakharova said at a press briefing.

‘Impossible not to connect’: London attack linked to Europe’s migrant policy, Polish PM says

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo has linked Wednesday’s London attack to Europe’s migrant policy, saying it is “impossible” not to connect them. 

She went on to suggest the deadly assault justifies Warsaw's refusal to take in refugees.

"I hear in Europe very often: do not connect the migration policy with terrorism, but it is impossible not to connect them," Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo told private broadcaster TVN24, as quoted by Reuters.

Szydlo went on to criticize the European Union's migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, who visited Poland earlier this week, threatening consequences for member states choosing not to host refugees.

"The commissioner should concentrate on what to do to avoid such acts as yesterday in London... Poland will not succumb to blackmail such as that expressed by the commissioner," Szydlo said.

"The commissioner is coming to Warsaw and trying to tell us: you have to do what the EU decided, you have to take these migrants...two days later another terrorist attack in London occurs," she continued.

On Wednesday four people, including the assailant, were killed in the attack in central London, after a car plowed into pedestrians near the British Parliament. 

Police believe the incident was “Islamist related,” but have given no details about the attacker, who they believe was acting alone.

In May 2016, Poland's right-wing government refused to accept any of the 6,200 refugees allocated to it under the EU's quota scheme. 

Although the country's previous center-right government voted in favor of quotas, the current Euroskeptic Law and Justice (PiS) administration does not want to honor the commitment. 

Former Polish prime minister and PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski defended the party's decision.

“After recent events connected with acts of terror [Poland] will not accept refugees because there is no mechanism that would ensure security,” he said at the time.

Kaczynski also spoke out against accepting refugees in 2015, saying they could bring diseases and parasites to Poland.

Some 1.6 million refugees and migrants arrived to the European Union between 2014 and 2016, creating a major strain on countries which are struggling to host them. 

The issue has been a major point of contention between the EU and Eastern European member states, with Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia denouncing an EU plan to fine countries which don't host refugees as “blackmail” last year.

China asks US to respect air defense ID zone after report of B-1 flyover

China says the US should respect its self-declared air defense identification zone (ADIZ), after a report alleged that a US bomber illegally flew inside the area in the East China Sea.

“The United States has its own ADIZs. I think if this matter is true, they should respect China’s relevant ADIZ rights,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing on Thursday.

It comes after CNN reported that Chinese officials warned a US military aircraft flying near South Korea on Sunday, telling its pilots they were illegally operating in Chinese airspace and ordering the plane to leave.

The pilots reportedly told China they were carrying out routine operations in international airspace and that the plane did not deviate from its path, the news outlet reported, citing US Pacific Air Forces spokesman Maj. Phil Ventura.

Chunying admitted on Thursday that she was unaware of the reported incident, but stressed that “all countries” should respect the security concerns of other nations.

“But, generally speaking, I hope that in this region all countries' actions consider the security concerns of relevant countries and be beneficial for mutual trust, peace and stability between countries,” Hua said, as quoted by Reuters.

She deferred questions to the defense ministry, which has not yet responded to requests for comment.

The reported incident comes amid heightened tensions between Beijing and Washington, in regards to China’s claims in the East China Sea.

China declared the ID zone in the East China Sea in 2013, requiring aircraft to identify themselves to authorities. 

However, the US and Japan have refused to recognize the zone, which covers the disputed Senkaku islands – claimed by both China and Japan – and overlaps airspace claimed by Japan and South Korea.

“Pacific Air Forces… did not recognize the Chinese Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) when it was announced in November of 2013, and does not recognize it today,” Ventura told CNN.

“The ADIZ has not changed our operations,” he added.

The B-1 bomber was in the region to conduct a series of training missions with Japanese and South Korean military aircraft, according to a US Air Force statement announcing the exercises.

“Our increased cooperation enables our combined forces to rapidly react to counter aggression against Japan and other allies and partners,” said US Maj. Ryan Simpson, the Pacific Air Forces bomber operations chief, said in the statement.

Last month, Beijing urged Washington to avoid stirring up “instability” in the disputed waterway, stressing once again that the Senkaku Islands – which China refers to as the Diaoyu islands – have been an “inherent part of Chinese territory since ancient times.”

The warning came after US Defense Secretary James Mattis reaffirmed America’s commitment to Japan’s security, making clear that Washington opposes any “unilateral action” to “overthrow” Japan’s administration of the Senkaku Islands.

Mattis cited Article 5 of the US-Japan Security Treaty, under which the US agreed to defend territories under Japanese administration, including the disputed East China Sea island chain. China has called the treaty a “product of the Cold War.”

The two sides have also clashed over China’s presence in the disputed South China Sea, with Washington stating in January that Beijing’s access to disputed islands should be restricted. 

That comment was met with backlash from the state-sanctioned Global Times newspaper, which wrote that it would take a “large-scale war” to prevent China from gaining access to the islands.

Belgian police stop suspected car-ramming attack in Antwerp

A person has been detained in Antwerp, Belgium, after he was believed to be attempting to drive his car into a busy shopping street at high speed, according to police.

"A vehicle with French plates has tried to drive at high speed into the Meir [shopping street] so that pedestrians had to jump aside," Antwerp police chief Serge Muyters told a news conference.

"Our army colleagues forced the driver to stop but he pulled away and ran a red traffic light. 

We sent a special forces team and the car and the driver were stopped."

"A man in camouflage was taken away."

The car was intercepted at nearby port docks, according to the federal prosecutor's office.

Authorities said they found knives, a gun, and a gas can with an unknown liquid in the car, Reuters reported.

"Different arms were found in the boot, bladed weapons, a pump-action rifle and a container of as yet unidentified liquid," Belgium's federal prosecutor said in a statement, as quoted by AFP.

"Because of these elements, and the events in London yesterday, the case is being taken on by the federal prosecutor's office,'' the statement added.

The man is of North African descent and is believed to be a radicalized Muslim, according to the media.

The prosecutor said the man has been identified as 39-year-old Mohamed R., a Tunisian national who resides in France.

French President Francois Hollande also said the incident appears to involve a French national. 

"It seemed to involve a French national, with possibly a certain number of weapons in his boot - it's up to the judges to make a statement on that - who was looking to kill or at the very least create a dramatic incident," Hollande told reporters.

"Therefore we must continue to be on high alert and mobilize all our forces," he added.

However, according to one of the sources in France, authorities there believed the suspect had not been trying to hit anyone, but was probably drunk and trying to escape a police check, Reuters reported.

A perimeter has been set up around the area and a bomb squad has been deployed.

Additional officers and military personnel have been deployed throughout the city, according to Antwerp police.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has praised the city's authorities for doing an "excellent job."

Meir is the main shopping street in Antwerp's historic center, and is mostly pedestrianized. It is one of Belgium's biggest shopping areas.

It comes just one day after an assailant plowed his car into pedestrians near the British Parliament, as part of an attack in which a policeman was also stabbed to death.

UK police believe the incident was “Islamist related." 

Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed that the attacker was born in Britain and had previously been investigated for suspected extremism by MI5.

It also comes just one day after the first anniversary of the Brussels bombings, which led to the deaths of 32 people at Brussels airport and Maalbeek metro station. 

More than 300 others were injured.

Belgium has been on high alert since the March 2016 attacks.

سازمان عفو بین الملل خواستار متوقف فوری فروش سلاح به عربستان شد

سازمان عفو بین الملل در اقدامی بی سابقه از حمایت تسلیحاتی آمریکا و انگلیس از عربستان انتقاد کرد و توقف فروش سلاح به عربستان را خواستار شد.

عفو بین الملل در بیانیه ای اعلام کرد: آمریکا و انگلیس، با قراردادن میلیاردها دلار سلاح در اختیار عربستان، باعث تشدید نقض حقوق بشر در یمن می شوند.

بر اساس گزارش عفو بین الملل، از آغاز جنگ علیه یمن در مارس 2015، واشنگتن و لندن در مجموع بیش از 5 میلیارد دلار سلاح در اختیار عربستان قرار دادند، که این رقم بسیار بیشتر از 10 برابر آن چیزی است که طبق برآوردها، وزارت امورخارجه آمریکا و وزارت توسعه انگلیس در بودجه های خود به عنوان کمک به یمن طی 2 سال گذشته اختصاص داده اند.

لین معلوف” مدیر پژوهش دفتر منطقه ای عفو بین الملل در بیروت در این بیانیه تأکید کرد: 2 سال جنگ باعث شده است که 3 میلیون نفر از سرزمین خود فرار کنند، و زندگی هزاران شهروند از هم پاشیده شود، و یمن گرفتار فاجعه ای انسانی شود، به صورتیکه اکنون 18 میلیون یمنی به شدت نیازمند کمکهای انسانی هستند.

معلوف خاطرنشان کرد: با وجود کمکهای چند میلیون دلاری بین المللی؛ بسیاری از کشورها به دلیل ادامه ارسال میلیاردی سلاح به یمن، در رنج و گرفتاری مردم این کشور سهیم هستند.

بر اساس این گزارش، از سلاح های صادر شده از سوی کشورهایی مانند آمریکا و انگلیس، در ارتکاب موارد گسترده ای از نقض حقوق بشر استفاده شده است، و این سلاح ها موجب بروز فاجعه انسانی در این کشور شده. 

این کشورها درحالی با فروش جدید سلاح موافقت کرده اند، که برای کاهش بحرانی که خودشان در ایجاد آن سهیم بوده اند، کمک های انسانی به یمن ارائه می دهند.

عفو بین الملل هشدار داد: مردم یمن در حال پرداخت هزینه این قراردادهای تسلیحاتی هستند؛ قراردادهایی که بیانگر حجم نفاق کشورهای امضا کننده آنها می باشند.

عفو بین الملل از جامعه جهانی خواست اقدامی فوری برای ممنوع کردن فروش سلاح (به عربستان) صورت دهد و فورا تحقیقی بین المللی درباره جنایت ها در یمن آغاز کند.

این سازمان از همه کشورها از جمله آمریکا و انگلیس درخواست کرد فورا ارسال سلاح هایی را که ممکن است از آنها در جنایت جنگی و نقض قوانین بین المللی در یمن استفاده شود، متوقف کنند.