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TBR News May 18, 2017

May 18 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. May 18, 2017: “First, the civilized world was shocked to hear of the Giant Rat of Sumatra, mentioned in a Sherlock Holmes adventure and then the news of Giant Lizards walking the present earth from the brilliant Dr. Icky, the renowned ichthyologist stunned many.

The recent revelations of the Giant Penguins of Antarctica have informed even more inquiring members of the pubic but now we learn of the Giant Sheep of Nicaragua! These grew to a height of 70 feet and ate many tons of grass and leaves a day, denuding the lush forests of that country and bringing about their own eventual extinction of their own species but that of the Hairless Yeti of Central America as well.

In earlier times, the public depended for such news from pamphlets but now millions can learn about these subjects and even more.

Recent scientific expeditions have uncovered miles of freeway beneath the soil of Kansas and it is rumored that a Bob’s Big Boy restaurant dating back to before the last ice age is being tentatively investigated beneath a parking lot in Peoria, Illinois!”

Table of Contents

  • Another large-scale cyberattack underway: experts
  • SECRECY NEWS
  • Hacker group that leaked NSA spy tools likely includes a U.S. insider, experts say
  • Seth Rich, the DNC, and WikiLeaks: The Plot Thickens
  • Don’t Lionize James Comey. The FBI Did Some Terrible Things Under Him.
  • Alex Jones retracts false stories about Chobani in defamation settlement
  • $35bn hit: Zuckerberg, Gates among those to suffer massive losses amid Trump-Russia claims
  • Turkey calls for removal of US anti-IS coalition chief
  • ISIL resorts to using poison gas to slow Iraq troops in Mosul
  • Saudi Arabia Experiments with Reform Amid Economic Downturn
  • Germany eyes Jordan as base for troops due to Turkey row
  • US voices ‘strongest possible’ concern over violence during Erdoğan’s visit
  • Feds arrest dozens of MS-13 gang members in 40+ raids across Los Angeles

 Another large-scale cyberattack underway: experts

May 17, 2017

AFP

Another large-scale, stealthy cyberattack is underway on a scale that could dwarf last week’s assault on computers worldwide, a global cybersecurity firm told AFP on Wednesday.

The new attack targets the same vulnerabilities the WannaCry ransomware worm exploited but, rather than freeze files, uses the hundreds of thousands of computers believed to have been infected to mine virtual currency.

Following the detection of the WannaCry attack on Friday, researchers at Proofpoint discovered a new attack linked to WannaCry called Adylkuzz, said Nicolas Godier, a researcher at the computer security firm.

“It uses the hacking tools recently disclosed by the NSA and which have since been fixed by Microsoft in a more stealthy manner and for a different purpose,” he said.

Instead of completely disabling an infected computer by encrypting data and seeking a ransom payment, Adylkuzz uses the machines it infects to “mine” in a background task a virtual currency, Monero, and transfer the money created to the authors of the virus.

Virtual currencies such as Monero and Bitcoin use the computers of volunteers to record transactions. They are said to “mine” for the currency and are occasionally rewarded with a piece of it.

Proofpoint said in a blog that symptoms of the attack include loss of access to shared Windows resources and degradation of PC and server performance, effects which some users may not notice immediately.

“As it is silent and doesn’t trouble the user, the Adylkuzz attack is much more profitable for the cyber criminals. It transforms the infected users into unwitting financial supporters of their attackers,” said Godier.

Proofpoint said it has detected infected machines that have transferred several thousand dollars worth of Monero to the creators of the virus.

The firm believes Adylkuzz has been on the loose since at least May 2, and perhaps even since April 24, but due to its stealthy nature was not immediately detected.

“We don’t know how big it is” but “it’s much bigger than WannaCry”, Proofpoint’s vice president for email products, Robert Holmes, told AFP.

A US official on Tuesday put the number of computers infected by WannaCry at over 300,000.

“We have seen that before — malwares mining cryptocurrency — but not this scale,” said Holmes.

The WannaCry attack has sparked havoc in computer systems worldwide.

Britain’s National Health Service, US package delivery giant FedEx, Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica and Germany’s Deutsche Bahn rail network were among those hit.

While the rate of new infections has slowed, researchers at cybersecurity firm Check Point said the malware continues to spread rapidly.

And another expert added that despite a quick breakthrough that WannaCry to be slowed down, researchers don’t fully understand  it.

“The problem is that we’re still not certain about the origin of the infections” as contrary to many previous attacks it wasn’t via emails which deceive users into installing the virus, said the expert on condition of anonymity.

More attacks could be soon be underway as the hacker group TheShadowBrokers that leaked the vulnerabilities used by WannaCry and Adylkuzz has threatened to publish more.

It said in a post it would begin providing information monthly by subscription in June, saying that in addition to Windows 10 vulnerabilities it would include “compromised network data from Russian, Chinese, Iranian, or North Korean nukes and missile programs”.

 

SECRECY NEWS

From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2017, Issue No. 37

May 18, 2017

LEGALITY OF THE TRUMP DISCLOSURES, REVISITED

When President Trump disclosed classified intelligence information to Russian officials last week, did he commit a crime?

Considering that the President is the author of the national security classification system, and that he is empowered to determine who gets access to classified information, it seems obvious that the answer is No. His action might have been reckless, I opined previously, but it was not a crime.

Yet there is more to it than that.

The Congressional Research Service considered the question and concluded as follows in a report issued yesterday:

“It appears more likely than not that the President is presumed to have the authority to disclose classified information to foreign agents in keeping with his power and responsibility to advance U.S. national security interests.” See Presidential Authority to Permit Access to National Security Information, CRS Legal Sidebar, May 17, 2017.

This tentative, rather strained formulation by CRS legislative attorneys indicates that the question is not entirely settled, and that the answer is not necessarily obvious or categorical.

And the phrase “in keeping with his power and responsibility to advance U.S. national security interests” adds an important qualification. If the president were acting on some other agenda than the U.S. national interest, then the legitimacy of his disclosure could evaporate. If the president were on Putin’s payroll, as the House majority leader lamely joked last year, and had engaged in espionage, he would not be beyond the reach of the law.

Outlandish hypotheticals aside, it still seems fairly clear that the Trump disclosures last week are not a matter for the criminal justice system, though they may reverberate through public opinion and congressional deliberations in a consequential way.

But several legal experts this week insisted that it’s more complicated, and that it remains conceivable that Trump broke the law. See:

“Don’t Be So Quick to Call Those Disclosures ‘Legal'” by Elizabeth Goitein, Just Security, May 17, 2017

“Why Trump’s Disclosure to Russia (and Urging Comey to Drop the Flynn Investigation, and Various Other Actions) Could Be Unlawful” by Marty Lederman and David Pozen, Just Security, May 17, 2017

“Trump’s disclosures to the Russians might actually have been illegal” by Steve Vladeck, Washington Post, May 16, 2017

OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE, & MORE FROM CRS

A 2014 report on obstruction of justice prepared by the Congressional Research Service was highlighted on the CRS congressional intranet this week, apparently in response to news stories and congressional interest in the topic. See Obstruction of Justice: an Overview of Some of the Federal Statutes that Prohibit Interference with Judicial, Executive, or Legislative Activities, April 17, 2014.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Israel: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief, updated May 17, 2017

Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response, updated May 16, 2017

Kuwait: Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated May 15, 2017

Softwood Lumber Imports From Canada: Current Issues, May 17, 2017

Air Traffic Inc.: Considerations Regarding the Corporatization of Air Traffic Control, updated May 16, 2017

The Electoral College: How It Works in Contemporary Presidential Elections, updated May 15, 2017

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative: Lessons Learned and Issues for Congress, updated May 16, 2017

Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)/Frigate Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated May 12, 2017

Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated May 12, 2017

Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Hypervelocity Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress, updated May 12, 2017

Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress, updated May 15, 2017

Hacker group that leaked NSA spy tools likely includes a U.S. insider, experts say

May 16, 2017

by Tim Johnson

mcclatchy

WASHINGTON — Cybersecurity experts believe the hacker who leaked the potent software tool that powered last week’s global ransomware attacks is an American – perhaps a disgruntled insider in the U.S. intelligence community.

Such a finding would raise the stakes for halting The Shadow Brokers group, which has bedeviled the National Security Agency with releases of its hacked weaponized cyber exploits for months.

One of those leaked NSA tools allowed extortionists to spark havoc last Friday by encrypting the hard drives of more than 200,000 computers in 150 countries, the largest such cyberattack ever to hit the globe. The attackers demanded $300 or more to unlock each computer.

The NSA did not respond to a request for comment.

The Shadow Brokers group first surfaced last August, claiming to have breached the NSA and stolen sophisticated cyber tools. It sought to auction off the NSA exploits but failed to find many buyers, releasing some for free. It periodically has resurfaced with statements.

The latest statement came at 2:16 a.m. Tuesday, a long, rambling screed that used broken syntax to make it seem as if it were written by a foreigner with poor English. But the message was filled with U.S. cultural references that experts said were likely to have come only from someone with a native’s familiarity.

“I think they are Americans, and I think they are inside somewhere,” said Dave Aitel, chief executive at Immunity, a Miami cybersecurity company, who formerly was a chief scientist at the NSA. “Some of the idioms they use are straight up native. You have to be a native to use them.”

Domestic cultural and political references fill the 1,100-word statement, which carries the headline: “OH LORDY! Comey Wanna Cry Edition.”

In addition to references to James Comey, the ousted FBI director, and the WannaCry ransomware that the extortionists deployed last Friday, the statement made liberal use of idioms like “BFF” – or “best friends forever” – and a vulgar expression that “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert employed May 1 in talking about President Donald Trump.

“I always thought there had to be an insider somewhere on the chain for The Shadow Brokers,” said John Bambenek, a threat intelligence manager at Fidelis Cybersecurity, a company in Bethesda, Maryland.

Bambenek said he had been struck by the language in the statement.

“The homophobic slurs kind of thing is common in American hacker culture,” he said.

If The Shadow Brokers group is simply a one-person show by an insider, or an American in a larger group, he or she would join a long list of insiders who’ve divulged some of the U.S. government’s most classified secrets in recent years, Bambenek said.

“How much s–t is walking out the front door of our frigging intelligence agencies? And why is nobody getting fired for it?” he asked. “There have been a lot of large bulk leaks.”

A widely known French hacker who founded Comae Technologies in the United Arab Emirates, Matthieu Suiche, also tweeted his belief that The Shadow Brokers may be an insider.

“Did the @NSAGOV have a disagreement with a contractor?” he asked.

In its online statement, The Shadow Brokers said it had many more stolen NSA tools to reveal, including ones that would allow hacking of mobile phones and newer Microsoft Windows software. It said it intended to create a “dump of the month” club, like a monthly book or wine delivery service, that would allow subscribers to hack computers and cellular phones and to taint late-model browser software with malicious code, including Microsoft’s Windows 10.

It assailed Microsoft, the Redmond, Washington, software giant, accusing it and other U.S. high-tech companies of taking money from the NSA in order to leave vulnerabilities its hacking team had discovered unresolved so that U.S. government hackers could continue to operate. It paid homage to the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations unit, which has been dubbed The Equation Group because of its use of sophisticated algorithms

Last Friday’s extortion wave used malware that exploited a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Windows XP programming.

“Despite what scumbag Microsoft Lawyer is wanting the peoples to be believing Microsoft is being BFF with theequationgroup,” it said, adding a string of colorful insults that included “douche bag, dumbass (and) libtard.”

It hinted at enjoyment at last week’s massive global ransomware attack, saying it passed time “eating popcorn and watching ‘Your Fired’ and WannaCry.”

The statement toggled between mangled English and standard English.

In noting a certain respect for the NSA’s elite Tailored Access Operations unit, which infiltrates networks around the world, including of U.S. adversaries like Iran and Russia, the statement said, “TheShadowBrokers is taking pride in picking adversary equal to or better than selves, a worthy opponent. Is always being about theshadowbrokers vs theequationgroup,” the statement said.

But in listing the kinds of leaked tools it could offer in its “data dump of the month” service, it resorted to standard English, saying the deliveries might include “web browser, router, handset exploits and tools” and “newer exploits for Windows 10.”

It also promised “compromised network data” to attack central banks around the world and to make use of the SWIFT banking transfer system, and information related to “Russian, Chinese, Iranian or North Korean nukes and missile programs.”

If The Shadow Brokers does include an American, it would not be the first time a disgruntled intelligence agency contractor had vexed the U.S. government by spilling secret documents.

In March, the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks began publishing what it claimed were cyber tools belonging to a special unit of the CIA. The group dubbed the release Vault 7. Experts said the likeliest explanation for the leak was a contractor or employee working for the unit, although no arrests have been made.

Two former contractors for the NSA also are accused of pilfering secrets.

Edward Snowden splashed into the headlines in 2013 after revealing the gamut of spying activities of the agency, then taking refuge in Moscow.

Harold T. Martin III was indicted in February on charges of stealing more than a half-billion pages of classified material and storing them at his Glen Burnie, Maryland, home.

One of the most notorious insiders was Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, who swept up 750,000 military and diplomatic cables and documents and provided them to WikiLeaks in 2010. Manning, who once was known as Bradley Manning, is to walk out of prison Wednesday. In January, then-President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s 35-year prison term to the nearly seven years she’s served.

Seth Rich, the DNC, and WikiLeaks: The Plot Thickens

May 18, 2017

by Thomas Knapp,

AntiWar

According to the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department, the nation’s capital reported 135 homicides last year. One of those homicides, the killing of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich on July 10, 2016, continues to make news ten months later.

Who killed Seth Rich, and why? We may never know for sure. On the other hand, a significant piece of the puzzle may have just fallen into place.

Fox News, citing a federal investigator as source, reports that Rich may well – as long rumored – have been the source of DNC emails published by WikiLeaks, less than two weeks after he was shot twice in the back during a robbery in which, curiously, nothing was apparently taken from him.

That email release, which revealed an internal DNC conspiracy to ensure the nomination of Hillary Clinton for president at the expense of her opponent, Bernie Sanders, wounded Clinton’s campaign and cost US Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz her position as DNC chair.

The federal source, as well as an investigator hired by the Rich family (former DC homicide detective Rod Wheeler), claims that Rich communicated with (now deceased) WikiLeaks director Gavin MacFadyen.

WikiLeaks founder/director Julian Assange, in line with the organization’s policy against outing sources, has resolutely declined to confirm or deny Rich as the DNC leaker. On the other hand, WikiLeaks did put up reward money for information leading to the arrest and conviction of his killer or killers – and retweeted, without comment, the Fox News story referenced above.

For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. In the case of Bill and Hillary Clinton, the right-wing conspiracy theory project of putting every fatal heart attack and accidental traffic death in America on a constantly updated, Internet-circulated “Clinton Body Count” list tends to make the rest of us cautious about just assuming skullduggery on the part of the Clintons and their associates in any given instance.

Still, it can’t be denied that Hillary Clinton has, as what her husband called his “co-president,” as a US Senator, and as US Secretary of State, proven herself to have both a sense of political entitlement and a distinctly murderous bent. If you doubt this, watch the CBS News video of her giggling “we came, we saw, he died” response to the killing of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Clinton’s publicly flaunted attitudes lend credibility to claims, admittedly listed as “unproven” (not necessarily “false”) by pro-Clinton site Snopes.com, that as Secretary of State she once seriously proposed the assassination of none other than Julian Assange: “Can’t we just drone this guy?”

Is it really that far-fetched to hypothesize that Clinton, or officials in her campaign or party – many of whom are accustomed to exercising power of life and death in when actually in office – would quail from likewise killing in pursuit of their political interests? The DNC leak (and therefore the DNC leaker) arguably cost Clinton more than the 80,000 votes or so by which she lost the 2016 presidential election.

As the straight news types like to say: Developing.

Don’t Lionize James Comey. The FBI Did Some Terrible Things Under Him.

May 17 2017

by Trevor Aaronson

The Intercept

When Donald Trump asked FBI Director James Comey in February to drop the investigation of former National Security Advisor (and then-unregistered foreign agent) Michael Flynn, the president apparently didn’t realize that Comey would behave like one of his more than 13,000 special agents.

As the New York Times reported from a source close to Comey, the FBI director went back to his office and wrote down from memory a summary of his conversation with Trump.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump told Comey, according to a memo the FBI director wrote. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

About three months after Trump allegedly said this, the president fired Comey.

Had this been a normal criminal investigation, and had Comey been a special agent in the field, the memo he would have written would have been known, in the FBI’s parlance, as an FD-302. The FBI does not record conversations with subjects related to criminal investigations. Instead, FBI agents, using their memory and sometimes handwritten notes, draft memos that summarize the conversations and include purportedly verbatim quotes. Federal judges and juries have consistently viewed these memos as indisputable fact. For this reason, Comey’s memo is no normal government memo. It could do lasting damage to Trump’s presidency, if not contribute to costing him the nation’s highest office altogether.

While Comey is now positioned for history to remember him as the cop who took down Trump, or tried to at great professional expense, there should be wariness about lionizing Comey in the way the news media have in recent days. Under Comey, the FBI pushed investigative and surveillance powers to new and controversial limits and employed tactics that were morally and ethically bankrupt.

In short, Comey’s FBI did some terrible things.

In an effort to stop terrorist attacks before they happen, Comey expanded the practice instituted by his predecessor, Robert Mueller, to use undercover agents and informants to catch would-be attackers in sting operations. These stings never caught terrorists on the eve of their attack. Notably, the FBI twice investigated Omar Mateen, the Orlando nightclub shooter who killed 49 people and wounded 53 others while claiming allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call, but did not deem him a threat. At the same time, Comey’s FBI agents aided in the prosecution of Sami Osmakac, a Florida man caught in a sting operation, despite having called him in private conversations a “retarded fool.” They also busted penniless, mentally ill homeless men who claimed to be associating with ISIS. In one of those cases, an informant even gave a homeless man $40 so he could purchase the machete and knives he needed for his supposed plot. To catch a lonely Michigan man, the FBI used two female informants to set up a honeypot, in which the FBI informants claimed to be in love with the target so as to manipulate him. The target, in turn, claimed to have an AK-47 and to have attempted to travel to Syria. But it turned out he was just saying all that to impress the ladies.

When the FBI busted the dark web child-porn site Playpen, agents did not shut down the enterprise, going against previous FBI policy. In investigations of child pornography under Mueller, the FBI shut down child-porn websites immediately, believing that allowing distribution of the images and videos would further victimize the children who had been exploited. Comey’s FBI continued to operate Playpen for nearly two weeks in an effort to surreptitiously install tracking software on the computers of its users; child pornography was available from FBI servers during this period of time.

Just days before his firing, Comey testified before Congress that one-half of all smartphone and computer devices analyzed by the FBI can’t be examined “with any technique” due to encryption. During his tenure, Comey worked aggressively to give the FBI access to encrypted devices. Notably, Comey battled in court with Apple over the tech company’s unwillingness to help unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters. The FBI later paid a hacker somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million to help unlock the phone. At the time, Comey told a House committee: “There is no such thing as absolute privacy in America.”

Despite being portrayed as flawless by movies and television shows, the FBI Laboratory turned out to be a vehicle for bad science and injustice. In 2015, the FBI acknowledged that examiners in its microscopic hair comparison unit had given flawed testimony, including in 32 cases in which defendants were sentenced to death.

Comey endorsed the practice of FBI undercover agents posing as members of the news media, though he called the practice “rare.” Of known cases in which FBI agents pretended to be journalists, they emailed a bomb-threat suspect near Seattle by posing as Associated Press employees, claimed to be a documentary film crew to investigate Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his supporters, and purported to be an investigator working with a journalist to conduct an undercover inquiry in Colorado.

Other examples of problems under Comey’s watch include the following:

  • An FBI translator, Daniela Green, traveled to Syria in 2014 and married Denis Cuspert, an ISIS operative and former German hip-hop artist. The FBI employee wasn’t undercover when this happened. She was in love. When she returned to the United States, Green received favorable treatment by becoming a cooperating witness — just two years in prison for making false statements — despite dozens of FBI cases in which ISIS sympathizers do far less and receive significantly harsher sentences.
  • More than a year after two men attacked a convention center near Dallas where Pamela Geller had organized the “First Annual Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest,” the FBI admitted in a court filing that it had an undercover agent embedded close to the two attackers, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi. After one of the attackers had posted a link to the “Draw Muhammad” event, the undercover agent wrote: “Tear Up Texas.” The undercover agent was on site during the attack but fled when the shooting started. In April, after CBS’s 60 Minutes covered the story, Senator Charles Grassley, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to Comey asking, among other questions: “Did the FBI suspect that Simpson and Soofi planned an attack at the drawing contest? Did the FBI have any formal or informal operational plan to intervene to stop Simpson and Soofi from carrying out an attack?”
  • The FBI expanded its authority to investigate people in the United States even when they are not suspected of being involved in criminal activity. This is commonly done in the service of recruiting informants, of which the FBI has more than 15,000. According to a classified FBI manual on the handling of informants that was updated under Comey, FBI agents are encouraged to build files on possible informants, may use undercover identities to recruit informants, and with proper clearances may recruit minors as well as journalists, clergy and lawyers. The FBI under Comey also codified a policy of using immigration as leverage to recruit informants and the threat of removal to keep coerced informants productive.

 

Alex Jones retracts false stories about Chobani in defamation settlement

Yoghurt giant said that conspiracy theorist posted fabricated stories that linked Chobani owner and company to a sexual assault case involving refugee children

May 17, 2017

The Guardian

Rightwing radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones said Wednesday that he had retracted previous stories and tweets about Chobani and regretted them, settling a defamation lawsuit brought by the yoghurt giant.

The brief statement read by Jones at the end of his radio show is a reversal from previous claims that he would never back down in the defamation case.

Chobani had argued in its lawsuit that Jones and his InfoWars website posted fabricated stories in April that linked Chobani owner Hamdi Ulukaya and the company to a sexual assault case involving refugee children. The company filed the lawsuit in Idaho district court in Twin Falls, where it operates the largest yoghurt plant in the world.

Jones said during his broadcast: “During the week of 10 April 2017, certain statements were made on the InfoWars Twitter feed and YouTube channel regarding Chobani that I now understand to be wrong.

“The tweets and video have now been retracted, and will not be reposted. On behalf of InfoWars, I regret that we mischaracterized Chobani, its employees and the people of Twin Falls, Idaho, the way we did.”

This is not Jones’s first apology over a false story. In March, Jones also apologized for promoting the “pizzagate” conspiracy rumors that led to a gunman firing an AR-15 rifle in a Washington DC pizza restaurant as he “self-investigated” a bogus theory that the Comet Ping Pong restaurant was at the center of a child sex-abuse plot and Democratic leaders.

In a nearly six-minute video, he read a statement in which he apologized to James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong, and tried to minimize his role in spreading the rumors.“I made comments about Mr Alefantis that in hindsight I regret, and for which I apologize to him,” Jones said. “We relied on third-party accounts of alleged activities and conduct at the restaurant. We also relied on accounts of reporters who are no longer with us.”

Jones, whose InfoWars site is known as America’s foremost conservative conspiracy theory outlet, has previously dismissed the Sandy Hook massacre, in which 20 elementary school students and six school staff were murdered, as “completely fake”, and has branded the September 11 terror attacks an “inside job”. During the recent US presidential race, Donald Trump took the unprecedented step of appearing for an interview on Jones’s site. Trump was interviewed for about 30 minutes by Jones in December 2015, and later called Jones a “nice guy”.

$35bn hit: Zuckerberg, Gates among those to suffer massive losses amid Trump-Russia claims

May 18, 2017

RT

Billionaires and millionaires the world over have become poorer to the tune of $35 billion, following the media scandal surrounding allegations of highly classified data being leaked by US President Donald Trump to Russia.

Stock markets suffered a meltdown on Wednesday after the alleged revelations, resulting in huge losses for almost every one of world’s 500 richest people, according to Bloomberg.

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg took the biggest hit, estimated at more than $2 billion. Shares in the social media giant fell 3.3 percent, but Zuckerberg still holds fifth position on the global rich list with around $62.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg index.

The richest person on the planet, Bill Gates, lost around $1 billion amid the carnage, as Microsoft’s shares suffered the most significant drop in almost a year – 2.8 percent. Still, Gates’ net worth is $86.8 billion, according to Bloomberg.

Gates was fourth on the list in terms of the amount of reduced capital. Jeff Bezos, the co-founder of Amazon.com, the world’s largest online retailer, is second after Zuckerberg based on the size of losses incurred amid the political uproar.

Before the stock market dive, Bezos was second behind Gates in terms of overall wealth. The turmoil saw Amazon shares recede 2.2 percent, however, and he now stands third with a $81.9 billion – a loss of more than $1.7 billion.

Bezos was overtaken on the list by Amancio Ortega, a Spanish business tycoon and chairman of Inditex, the world’s largest clothing company, best known for its Zara chain. Ortega lost $355 million, five times less than Zuckerberg’s loss, and is now the second wealthiest person on the planet with $83.2 billion.

Wednesday’s market drop followed US media reports on alleged state secret leaks during the meeting between US President Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week.

The revelations were dismissed by Russia, with President Vladimir Putin calling them “political schizophrenia.” Earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry also dismissed the media claims, saying that reading US newspapers can “not only be harmful, but dangerous.”

The eight richest people on Earth are estimated to possess wealth equal to that of the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity.

According to the latest Bloomberg estimates, the top 500 billionaires and millionaires are valued at around $4.9 trillion. A 2016 report by Boston Consulting Group said only 1 percent of the world’s population owns almost half of its wealth, and that the wealth of the rich is only growing.

 

Turkey calls for removal of US anti-IS coalition chief

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has called for the removal of Brett McGurk, the senior US envoy to the coalition against so-called “Islamic State.” He said McGurk has indirectly supported Kurdish militants.

May 18, 2017

DW

Brett McGurk – a special presidential envoy and a holdover from the former President Barack Obama’s administration – has been part of the global coalition, which has 68 members, since its early days in 2014, during which time the coalition has reduced territory under the control of the so-called “Islamic State.”

He is seen by Ankara as having a close working relationship with the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which is regarded as having fought effectively against IS. He visited the Kurdish group’s territory in northern Syria this week.

The US decided to arm and equip the YPG inside Syria as it moves to take the city of Raqqa from IS in a move that angered Ankara.

Cavusoglu accused McGurk of supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant group inside Turkey fighting the government as part of an over 30-year insurgency over minority rights, Cavusoglu told the broadcaster NTV.

The PKK is listed by both Washington and Ankara as a terrorist organization.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the White House this week but appeared unable to alter President Donald Trump’s plan to work with the YPG on the fight for Raqqa, Islamic State’s de facto capital.

The YPG said it is separate from the PKK and insisted it does not want conflict with Ankara.

 

ISIL resorts to using poison gas to slow Iraq troops in Mosul

May 17, 2017

by Florian Neuhof

The National

MOSUL-Cornered and on the brink of defeat, ISIL has resorted to the widespread use of poison gas to slow the advance of Iraqi troops in Mosul.

Iraqi special forces fighting in Mosul and the Federal Police units deployed in support have been the target of sustained gas attacks since at least April, officers and soldiers in the city have told The National. The gas used in these attacks is thought to be chlorine or mustard gas.

The battle to liberate the city from the terror group is entering its final stages after seven months of bitter fighting. Recent gains by the military has reduced the area under ISIL control to just over 10 per cent of the city on the west bank of the Tigris river, said Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the Iraqi high command.

The insurgents remain entrenched in the historic old city, but are steadily losing ground in the suburbs to the north-west. Unable to stem the Iraqi advance, ISIL has turned to chemical weapons, which it delivers in mortar shells or leaves behind in crude explosive devices as they retreat. In the confused fighting over the dense urban maze of west Mosul, there is little to prevent the extremists from launching gas attacks at the military.

“We can’t stop them, Daesh can fire mortars from anywhere. We have given our soldiers advice on how to deal with such attacks, and have distributed gas masks,” said Lieutenant Colonel Muhanned of the elite Emergency Response Division (ERD).

His unit, which is now advancing through the Hay Al Aiqtisadiiyn area of west Mosul, was first exposed to poison gas on April 21 in the nearby Thawra neighbourhood. Mortar shells exploding near the commander’s vehicle spilt liquid on the concrete, and yellow smoke rose into the air. Fifteen men were hospitalised after inhaling the gas, and one soldier died from the toxic fumes.

Since then, Lieutenant Colonel Muhanned’s unit has been hit repeatedly by gas attacks. The officer refused to divulge the total number of casualties sustained in ISIL’s chemical weapons attacks, but it is clear that they can be a significant disruption to Iraqi advances.

Lieutenant Muntathar Al Jazair was leading an ERD platoon in an assault on ISIL positions in Thawra on April 21 when a mortar shell smashed into the tarmac. A yellow, reeking smoke reached the Lieutenant, who was hospitalised with four of his soldiers. Of the five men, two remain in hospital with severe burns caused by the gas.

“We carry gas masks with us now. We might have to use them,” said Lieutenant Al Jazair, who is back on the frontline in Hay Al Aiqtisadiiyn.

Federal Police units supporting the ERD have also been hit by gas attacks, the Lieutenant said. And Iraqi Special Operations Forces, another elite unit that fights alongside the ERD, has been regularly targeted since April, according to sources within the ISOF.

The ERD and ISOF are spearheading an assault in the north-west that is pushing towards the river, isolating pockets of ISIL resistance in an effort to gradually grind them down. It is a slow, methodical advance, designed to minimise losses after months of costly fighting.

As the Iraqis move forward, confining ISIL into an ever shrinking cauldron, their units are finding the sites used by ISIL to produce its chemical weaponry. Workshops for home-made mortar shells, explosives and suicide vehicles lie scattered across the city.

“We found bomb factories in the east too, but not as many as in the west. Two times we discovered poison gas in these factories,” said Majid Naji, an ERD bomb disposal expert.

At a base outside the city, Mr Naji showed The National one of the stashes his unit has discovered. Glass bottles holding a dark, heavy liquid have been carefully placed into a plastic bucket. A fuse is attached to the bottles, most of which have been wrapped in plastic foil to avoid accidental spillage. ISIL fighters were supposed to deposit these poison gas Molotov cocktails near Iraqi forces, light the fuse and make a quick escape, said Mr Najid. One bottle is sufficient to douse a whole neighbourhood in gas, he claimed.

Poison gas is not the only indiscriminate weapon the extremists have deployed to stave off defeat in Mosul. Suicide car bombs, a mainstay of ISIL’s defence of the city it took by storm in 2014, have been supersized into fuel tankers filled with explosives and oil, which cause huge destruction in the built-up residential areas of Mosul. The insurgents are using civilians as human shields against coalition air strikes, and are preventing families from leaving areas under their control.

It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of civilians are still in Mosul’s old city, where the extremists are expected to make a last stand. In the densely packed centre, the use of poison gas is likely to have catastrophic consequences.

After battling the militants for almost three years all over Iraq, Lieutenant Colonel Muhanned expects ISIL to make use of poison gas as the insurgents mount a fight to the death in the city’s historic core.

“Daesh will use gas on us again,” he said. There is not a hint of doubt in his voice.

Saudi Arabia Experiments with Reform Amid Economic Downturn

As oil riches have declined in Saudi Arabia, the crisis has forced change in the country. Women are joining the workforce and music is even being permitted on the streets. Can the world’s most conservative nation reinvent itself?

May 17, 2017

by Susanne Koelbl In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Spiegel

A man with a lute plays Beethoven’s “Ode to Freedom,” before moving on to play a piece from an Iraqi composer. Men are sitting next to women as they listen to the music. What’s so special about that?

The man tensely holding the lute is Khalil AlMuwail. He barely slept the night before. His day job is as an information technology specialist at a large hospital in the capital city Riyadh, but his true passion is playing the oud, the Arab lute. The deeply religious claim that people who play the oud also have other vices, and if the religious police catch someone playing the instrument, they destroy it. That’s how it has been here for decades.

To learn how to play the instrument and become a virtuoso, AlMuwail spent years driving 500 kilometers to neighboring Bahrain every two weeks for a one-hour lesson. He couldn’t find a teacher in Saudi Arabia.

But things are changing – even in what may be the world’s most conservative country. The government has stripped the notorious religious police of their power and the more than 3,000 guardians of morality, who terrorized women for wearing makeup and arrested unmarried couples for walking next to each other on the street, are a rare sight these days. This evening, as Khalil AlMuwail performs his concert to thundering applause in the tent of the Cultural Center of Saudi Arabia, they can’t be found either.

But what does it really mean that the Saudi king, the guardian of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, has reined in his feared morals police? And why have the fundamentalists gone silent rather than lament the loss of values?

The End of a Fairy Tale 

The primary reason is the disappearance of Saudi Arabia’s fairy-tale riches. The kingdom is in the midst of the deepest crisis it has seen since oil first began gushing out of the wells in the eastern part of the country in 1938. Low oil prices have led to a 50-percent drop in the country’s revenues. In 2015, the government racked up a budget deficit of 90 billion euros, and the country began borrowing.

Then there’s the fact that Saudi Arabia was the pillar of a Middle Eastern order that now no longer exists, destroyed by the Arab spring and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. The major powers, led by Iran and Saudi Arabia, are now wrestling over their position in the region. This confluence of events is threatening stability in the kingdom.

This means that there are more important issues at stake for religious fundamentalists than whether toenail polish is haram, forbidden, or not. The country’s enormous challenges could mean that the ban on women driving could also soon be lifted. Can the government of King Salman prevent a recession and reduce the country’s dependency on oil? Will Saudi Arabia prevail in its battle against repeated jihadi attacks? And despite all the changes, can it protect the country’s societal cohesion?

Suddenly, questions are being asked in public that people didn’t dare formulate only a short time ago. Like why a high-ranking cleric spread nonsense about driving leading to infertility among women. And why the country is entangled in an expensive and savage war with Yemen that has already cost the lives of 10,000 people and led to the displacement of 3 million others. Does it really make sense to sell part of the state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco? Are there no other ways of relieving the country’s fiscal plight?

Challenging the Social Pact

“Why” is a word that didn’t previously exist in Saudi Arabian public debate. Suddenly, it can be heard all over the place, as if the economic crisis is forcing the country to undergo a kind of late-period enlightenment. Everything is being renegotiated, from benefits to the distribution of money, and the question of who will enjoy new freedoms and who will lose old privileges. In sum, the country’s previous social pact – prosperity in exchange for submission – is being challenged.

That pact, reached over 250 years ago between the Sunni Wahhabis and the Saudi dynasty had always been a win-win situation for both sides: The Saudis controlled the country’s land and oil revenues while the Wahhabi clergy ruled its hearts and minds.

But now economic crisis, political uncertainty and social upheaval are converging and radical Wahhabism, the national religion, has nothing to counter it with. It no longer feels contemporary: Its strict religious doctrine doesn’t leave enough room for the dreams of younger Saudi Arabians in a country where three out of four people are under the age of 30.

The country’s treatment of music is also now being questioned. The government has set up its own agency to organize concerts and build movie theaters, something that had been more or less forbidden in Saudi Arabia, in an attempt to keep the demands under control. Now music can be heard all over the place: Music that is charting in nearby Kuwait can be heard in Ubers while women exercise at the gym to a pop version of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”

AlMuwail, the musician, is 42 years old and dreams of introducing Saudi Arabians to the magic of music. “Our universe has the music of God,” AlMuwail says. He says he’d like to establish a music school. When he applied for the license from the requisite agency, he assured the authorities that he only wanted to teach well-behaved students and he romanticized music’s healing power. But his application was rejected because the dissemination of music deviates from the correct path set by the Prophet Muhammad.

AlMuwail, who is a member of the country’s Shiite minority, then wrote a letter to the highest-ranking Shiite cleric in the city of Najaf in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In it, he asked if music was a vice and if playing the oud was haram. The cleric answered that music is permitted as long as it isn’t used for blasphemous purposes. AlMuwail showed the letter to the authorities, but they still rejected him.

Testing the Limits of Freedom

Things in Saudi Arabia don’t always make sense. Modernizers and conservatives are constantly at odds with each other – sometimes one side prevails, sometimes the other – and between these wrestling matches, younger Saudi Arabians test the limits of their freedom.

“I don’t want to be stopped by the police when I am out with my girlfriend,” says Farhad, a 26-year-old photographer. He’s come to the Wmdah ArtSpace in north Riyadh, an art gallery located between fallow lands and cement walls, with his friends. The men want to take guitar lessons – an exotic undertaking by Saudi Arabian standards. “Until now, we didn’t have normal lives,” says 29-year-old marketing expert Abdullah. “Now they at least let us breathe.” When young Saudi Arabians discuss politics, their conversation circles around one man: Prince Mohammad bin Salman. At 31 years of age, he’s not much older than the subjects he rules over. His likeness peers out over them from the concrete pillars of highways and the walls of skyscrapers, always depicted next to his father King Salman, both larger than life.

 

The prince, as the country’s de facto ruler, enjoys vast power. As defense minister, he has led an alliance of Sunni countries in a devastating war in Yemen, where it is fighting the Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels. He’s also the deputy crown prince and the initiator of the Vision 2030 reform program, which envisions fundamental changes in all areas of society – from infrastructure to the economy and culture.

Turning the Kingdom Inside-Out

The prince is turning everything in the kingdom inside out, and some say that only a young person, without scruples or any ties to the past, can do what is necessary in Saudi Arabia. He must wrest privileges from allies that have taken them for granted and question old certainties. The first effects of this transformation are already palpable.

Almost everything considered normal in the West is banned in the kingdom. Given the country’s tradition of radical gender division, unmarried men are not allowed to be in the same room as young women. Saudi Arabians consider many longtime comforts to be a given, but now they are having to pay for their private water consumption for the first time along with electricity bills. Soon the state will begin collecting taxes and the civil administration will be paid based on the work they actually do and not just for showing up at the office.

“It no longer works for people to come into the office at 10 a.m., take a leisurely lunch, then attend long prayers before going home at 2 p.m.,” says one Western executive who has lived in the country for many years.

This kind of change doesn’t come easy, and the royal house recently had to retreat on some of the cuts it had made. Resentment among government employees has been widespread, with some seeing their salaries cut by as much as one-third, even as the royal family continues to live in the lap of luxury.

For many of its subjects, the kingdom long remained a kind of protected space. The monarchy demanded obedience, but it also took care of its subjects in return. The new status quo suddenly requires a greater degree of self-sufficiency, a trait that doesn’t exactly fit into this absolutist system. So how are such fundamental changes supposed to work in society in such a short period of time? More importantly: What will be the outcome?

“You can talk about music. But women singing in front of men is forbidden – the men wouldn’t be able to hear their voices and would instead be looking at their bodies,” says Musaed AlMuhaya, a professor for new media at the Islamic University and a member of the old guard. He’s one of the few conservatives currently willing to speak openly about the renewal taking place in the country.

Crackdown on Critics

It would be imprudent to criticize the prince’s Vision 2030 in the current environment. Even the Grand Mufti says little about it. Nor does the head of the Mutawa, the religious police, whose official name is the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

At the start of the year, well-known author Tirad al-Omari dared to express concerns about Vision 2030. He feared that the amount of change might be overwhelming and also expressed concern about the high taxes and a war in Yemen that was costing so much money and so many lives. Omari has supposedly been under house arrest ever since.

Even archconservative preacher Saad al-Braik was ordered to visit the Interior Ministry after he sided with a colleague who had been arrested after criticizing the concerts planned by Prince Mohammed. With 5 million followers, Braik is a celebrity among fundamentalists on Twitter. But the times have become unpredictable, even for the pillars of the religious establishment. Braik is no longer tweeting.

What might be most striking about current developments is that the ruling class seems to have the religious establishment firmly in its grasp – and not the other way around as had previously appeared to be the case. The Saudi rulers allow the radical sheikhs to speak when it is convenient for them, but they also don’t shy away from silencing them if the situation requires.

“I am a bulldozer and I will clear anyone out of the way who doesn’t go along with things,” Prince Mohammed reportedly informed television bosses and representatives of the media as he presented his Vision 2030. It hardly matters whether it’s just a rumor or an actual quote. No one dares publicly question the royal renewal project any longer.

This isn’t the dawn of some new liberal era in Saudi Arabia. Many political activists – whether oriented toward Islamism or democracy – are currently in sitting in jail. In 2016, 154 people were decapitated by sword.

New Roles for Women

The winners of the emerging change are women. They now head banks, cancer research centers, work as market analysts, store managers, editors in chief of publications and top models.

“It’s not that they suddenly learned to appreciate us. They just needed the money,” says one blogger who is frustrated that it was financial misery, and not broader insight, that has forced the rulers to rethink things. Now women are supposed to work in order to help compensate for men’s’ shrinking earnings. The ban on women driving could even soon be lifted – primarily because wages for male drivers are too expensive.

Leena al-Haidari is a 26-year-old investment banker who completed a master’s degree in London and she lives in a house with her father and three sisters. Her parents are divorced. It was her father who pushed for his daughters’ emancipation by sending them abroad to university without any male guardians – a move that drew bitter resistance from most of the rest of the family.

For Haidairi, it is now self-evident that she should earn her own money, pursue her career plans and also choose her own husband. Her dark hair loosely dangles over her slender face. Her wrist is covered with a bracelet that reads: “I am my own guardian.” The sentence refers to the fact that women in Saudi Arabia are treated like children. King Salman only announced this month that he would allow women to use government services, including health care and education, without the approval of a male guardian.

“But the new generation is no longer asking for permission,” says Madeha al-Ajroush. The 62-year-old feminist became the first woman to drive the streets of Saudi Arabia in 1999. She was arrested, as were many who followed in her footsteps. Today, al-Ajroush works as the only female psychoanalyst in Saudi Arabia. “The country is ripe for change,” she says. al-Ajroush says she believes the fundamentalists have failed and that they have “invested only in power and not in their credibility.”

As a young woman, al-Ajroush lived in New York, where her father was a diplomat. She completed her studies to become a psychoanalyst in the West. Back in Saudi Arabia, she initially provided treatment to women with bipolar disorders or schizophrenia. But for the past three years, her patients have also included women who have their own income and can afford to get advice. They come to her to talk about the narrowness and restrictiveness in their country, because they see a direct corollary between it and their own personal problems, that disdain toward women can lead to depression or that personality-development can be shaped by external freedom.

“A dramatic transformation is in progress, and local traditions are no longer decisive to the younger generation,” says al-Ajroush. The internet and the ability to travel abroad have undone the decades of isolation, she says. Saudi Arabian society is now ready to “take the leap.”

Between a Hardline and Free Spaces

The country is beginning a societal discussion in which it is unclear where it will lead. All groups – men and women, old and young, fundamentalist and liberal – believe they have the support of the majority of the population behind them. Perhaps that’s not so surprising in a country that knows no public opinion polls and in which families have remained tight-knit.

Bujairi Park recently opened in western Riyadh. It’s a green space where men and women walk together, picnic and sit in cafés while holding hands. Many women still cover their faces at home when a man appears on television, but the dating app Tinder is also now available in the city, and some unwed couples live together in rented apartments. On Tahlya Street, home to a string of hotels and restaurants, men and women seek contact stealthily, but with less and less facial covering.

Both things seem to be coexisting at the moment – a hard line that accepts no deviations, and the new free spaces.

That evening, AlMuwail, the oud player, searches for the writings of Aristotle and Platon in a bookstore. He wants to know what they have to say about music. Philosophy is technically banned in Saudi Arabia, but there has lately been a debate over whether this restriction still applies in the country, as well. For weeks now, the country’s bestselling book has been Rolf Deobelli’s “The Art of Clear Thinking.” AlMawail places it in his basket and heads for the checkout.

Germany eyes Jordan as base for troops due to Turkey row

May 17, 2017

Reuters

Germany said on Wednesday it was considering moving the roughly 250 troops deployed at Turkey’s Incirlik base to help in the fight against Islamic State militants to Jordan because Ankara refuses to grant German lawmakers access to the site.

Turkish officials have told Reuters a visit by German lawmakers to some 250 German soldiers at Incirlik to provide logistical support to the U.S.-led coalition would not be appropriate at the moment.

The deepening row has further soured relations that became increasingly strained ahead of a constitutional referendum in Turkey that handed President Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who is visiting Jordan at the weekend, told reporters after a parliamentary committee meeting that the government had been evaluating possible alternatives to Incirlik for some time.

“At the weekend in Jordan I will firstly get a picture of things there and also hold talks with the King,” she said, adding talks were also still going on with Turkey.

A defense ministry spokesman said Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete were also possible sites but that Jordan was the most favorable. Criteria including geography and ties with other allies were being taken into account, said the spokesman.

On Monday Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the possibility of moving the troops out of Turkey, and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel struck a tough tone in comments to a German newspaper on Wednesday.

“I can only hope that the Turkish government changes its mind in the coming days. Otherwise, the German parliament will certainly not leave the soldiers in Turkey,” Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung.

Relations between NATO allies Germany and Turkey have deteriorated sharply after a series of diplomatic rows.

Most recently, Turkey has expressed anger that Germany is granting asylum to Turks accused of participating in a failed coup in July.

The failed putsch prompted a purge of the Turkish military, judiciary and civil service. German officials have said more than 400 Turkish citizens with diplomatic passports and other government work permits had sought asylum in Germany since then.

Mass-selling daily Bild reported that two Turkish generals had sought asylum at Frankfurt airport late on Tuesday. The Office for Migrants and Refugees declined to comment.

However, in a sign of progress on another difficult issue, a spokesman for Germany’s foreign ministry said their officials had been granted permission to pay a second visit to a German-Turkish journalist held in prison in Istanbul.

Deniz Yucel, who works for Die Welt daily, was arrested in February on charges of propaganda in support of a terrorist organization and inciting public violence. Yucel denies the charges and the German government is pushing for his release.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers and Michael Nienaber; Editing by Gareth Jones)

 US voices ‘strongest possible’ concern over violence during Erdoğan’s visit

State department ‘communicating concern’ to Turkish government after brawl between Turkish security personnel and protesters injured 11

May 17, 2017

Reuters

The United States has said it was voicing its “strongest possible” concern to Turkey over a street brawl that erupted between protesters and Turkish security personnel during Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Washington.

Police said the fighting outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence on Tuesday injured 11 people, including a Washington police officer, and led to two arrests for assault. At least one of those arrested was a protester.

“We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms,” state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Video of the incident showed men in dark suits chasing anti-government protesters and punching and kicking them as police intervened. Two men were bloodied from head wounds as bystanders assisted dazed protesters.

Metropolitan police chief Peter Newsham said at a news conference on Wednesday that police had a good idea of most of the assailants’ identities and were investigating with the secret service and state department.

Turkey’s official Anadolu state news agency reported that protesters were chanting anti-Erdoğan slogans as the president entered the residence after meeting Donald Trump to discuss the fight against Islamic State militants.

“Police did not heed Turkish demands to intervene,” the news agency said, and Erdoğan’s security team and Turkish citizens moved in and “dispersed them”.

The Turkish embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

Tens of thousands of Turks have been detained as Erdoğan cracked down on the press and academia following an attempted coup in 2016. Trump made no mention on Tuesday of Erdoğan’s record on dissent and free speech.

House of Representatives foreign affairs committee chairman Ed Royce, a California Republican, called on attorney general Jeff Sessions and secretary of state Rex Tillerson “to hold individuals accountable” for the attack.

In a statement, Washington mayor Muriel Bowser called the violence “an affront to D.C. (District of Columbia) values and our rights as Americans”.

Mehmet Tankan, 31, said he was one of a dozen protesters outside the ambassador’s residence chanting slogans condemning Erdoğan for supporting Islamic extremists and opposing political rights for Turkey’s Kurds when the brawl broke out.

Seven security personnel, some of them carrying firearms, rushed up and began punching him, bruising him all over his body, Tankan said by phone.

Tankan said the violence was worse than when Erdoğan visited Washington in 2016 and scuffles erupted between his security detail and demonstrators.

“The next time they could kill us easily. I’m scared now too, because I don’t know how it will affect my life here in the United States,” said Tankan, who lives in Arlington, Virginia.

 Feds arrest dozens of MS-13 gang members in 40+ raids across Los Angeles

May 18, 2017

RT

Hundreds of federal and local law enforcement officers, in pre-dawn simultaneous raids, stormed homes and storefronts in Los Angeles, arresting dozens of people with alleged high-ranking leadership roles in the MS-13 gang.

The raids kicked off just before 4:00am Wednesday as roughly 1,000 officers from agencies including the FBI, DEA, LAPD, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and ICE hoped to catch suspects off guard as part of a years-long racketeering investigation, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Today we disrupted this gang’s command and control,” said Eric Harden, the special agent in charge of the ATF’s Los Angeles field division, according to CNN. “We believe the most impact is made by targeting the mid-to-upper-level hierarchy of the gang and removing them.”

“Once removed, it causes a disorganization of the gang, where it suppresses their activity for an extensive amount of time until another leader is developed or steps up.”

Federal agents said the probe, which began three years ago under the Obama administration and when James Comey was FBI director, targeted the leadership and the most violent members of MS-13, and the gang’s link to the Mexican mafia.

“This gang is responsible for murders – both of rival gangsters and innocent bystanders – as well as drug dealing and extortion in many communities in the Los Angeles area,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown in a statement.

“With thousands of members here in the Southland, the gang’s power is widespread – power which it maintains with severe acts of violence. Today’s charges and arrests, however, will deal a critical blow to the top leadership of this criminal organization and will significantly improve safety in neighborhoods across this region.”

MS-13 is said to make money from extortions, kidnappings, drug and weapons trafficking and human trafficking, the ATF said.

Harden has faced off with MS-13 for decades, dating back to his days as a street agent.

“They’ve been here since the ’80s and have thrived to this date,” said Harden. “They’re a transnational or international gang. Their level of brutality is extreme and high, similar to what we read about and hear with the drug-trafficking cartels in Mexico.”

MS-13 began in Los Angeles in the 1980s, when El Salvadorians flooded into the United States as their country was in the midst of a civil war. The United States contributed to the El Salvador conflict by providing large amounts of military aid to the government during the Carter and Reagan administrations. The gang’s offshoot in Central America took hold when many of its members were deported.

ABC News reported there are currently about 800 known MS-13 members in the city, down from a peak of about 1,200 in recent years.

More than half of the 44 arrested are undocumented, acting US Attorney Sandra Brown said.

Los Angeles is the US base for MS-13, which has tens of thousands of members worldwide. Authorities claim the gang as among the largest criminal organizations in the US. MS-13 is active in 40 US states, plus the District of Columbia.

The suspects face a wide range of charges, including federal racketeering and narcotics conspiracy. If convicted, Brown said, most of those arrested Wednesday could face decades in federal prison – and three could face the death penalty.

 

 

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