Britain’s Security Officials Fear More Lone Wolf Attacks in Wake of MP’s Murder

The man held for the fatal stabbing last week of a British lawmaker had been referred to the British government’s anti-extremism program, called Prevent, because of his radical Islamist views, but the country’s security services, including MI5 – Britain’s domestic intelligence agency – had not deemed him a serious threat requiring monitoring, confirmed British officials. 
 
Police have not released the name of the suspect, but local media have identified him as Ali Harbi Ali, a 25-year-old British national of Somali descent. Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper reported that the suspect’s father, Harbi Ali Kullane, a former adviser to Somalia’s prime minister, said British counter-terrorism police had visited him at his home in north London. 
 
“I’m feeling very traumatized. It’s not something that I expected or even dreamed of,” the suspect’s father told the newspaper following the murder Friday of Conservative MP David Amess. 
 
The lawmaker was stabbed multiple times while meeting with constituents at a church hall an hour’s drive east of London. The Metropolitan Police have confirmed early investigations of the slaying suggest “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism,” but have so far refrained from going into any details publicly. 
 
Ali was born in London. Many members of his wider family live in Somalia, where his aunt is head of a security think tank in Mogadishu. Ali’s uncle is Somalia’s ambassador to China. 
 
Britain’s security and counter-terror agencies have warned cabinet ministers of a possible wave of future attacks by what they term “bedroom radicals,” lone wolf militants radicalized online during pandemic lockdowns. Investigators are trying to establish whether Ali fits that profile and whether his radicalization intensified during the lockdown. 
 
They have so far found no evidence that he traveled overseas to train, a British official told VOA. The Sun newspaper quoted security sources as saying that Ali became increasingly radicalized after watching militant videos on YouTube. 

Amess eulogized 
 
The 69-year-old Amess is the second British MP to have been murdered in the past five years, and his death has prompted nationwide horror and outrage. Politicians across political divides praised him as a hard-working “gentleman MP,” one who eschewed a ministerial career in favor of focusing on the needs of his constituents. An independent-minded Conservative, he was widely known as a campaigner for animal welfare. 
 
Dozens of mourners attended a special church service Sunday in memory of the MP, one of the country’s longest serving lawmakers, who was first elected to the House of Commons in 1983. Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a rare joint appearance with Keir Starmer, the leader of Britain’s main opposition party, at the scene of the attack, where both laid flowers. 
 
Johnson described Amess, a father of five and a devout Catholic, as a “fine parliamentarian and a much-moved colleague and friend.” 
 
Amess’s family said in a statement released Sunday: “Our hearts are shattered.” They added, “We are trying to understand why this awful thing has occurred. Nobody should die in that way. Please let some good come from this tragedy. We are absolutely broken, but we will survive and carry on for the sake of a wonderful and inspiring man.” 
 
Ali was arrested inside the church hall as paramedics battled to save the life of the MP. He used his phone immediately after the attack, but it is unclear whether he contacted anyone or was filming the scene of the crime. Police sources say he has been cooperating with investigators. He is being held under the Terrorism Act. 

Counter-terror efforts questioned 
 
Security officials told VOA under the condition of anonymity that the attack had been planned over several weeks and Amess’s suspected attacker made an appointment to see the MP, saying he was moving into the area from London. “At the moment there is not a specific reason why Amess was targeted — Ali was geared to attack any lawmaker, it was just he managed to get to Amess first,” said a security official. 
 
The referral by a teacher five years ago of Amess’ alleged killer to the Prevent program has prompted questions over the effectiveness of the de-radicalization scheme, which has been the subject of an ongoing review since January. A former counter-terror commander, Richard Walton, called on the government to “invest more” in the Prevent scheme so it is better equipped to “detect the signs and symptoms of radicalized individuals.” 
 
The security services have raised their fears about a potential wave of attacks by so-called bedroom radicals for weeks. In September the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, publicly cautioned that the pandemic had left many more people at risk of radicalization because militants had exploited the social isolation of lockdowns to recruit and proselytize. 
 
As police investigators question Ali and sift through evidence, the country’s politicians are debating about how to tighten security. Amess’s murder has underlined the potential danger Britain’s lawmakers face. Friday’s stabbing attack by a lone assailant bore striking similarities to the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in June 2016. Cox was about to hold meetings with constituents when she was shot and stabbed by a subsequently convicted far right militant.   
 
In 2010 Labour MP Stephen Timms was injured in a stabbing attack by an Islamist when he was holding a regular meeting with constituents. 
 
Some British lawmakers are likely to be offered police protection when meeting voters, Home Secretary Priti Patel acknowledged during several Sunday television appearances. Security officials are drawing up plans for a new minimum package of safety measures all police forces must offer lawmakers when they are away from the House of Commons. 
 
Not all MPs are happy with the idea of having police present during their meetings with local voters and fear it might undermine a tradition they hold dear of constituents having easy access to them. 
 
Britain’s Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, said Monday that online hate towards MPs is “out of control.” “The elephant in the room in all this is the online hate that we all get,” he told broadcaster Sky News. 
 
Raab echoed the fear of security services that the pandemic and lockdowns had not helped the situation. “There is certainly an element of more people who are at-risk and vulnerable because they’ve been spending more time online,” he added. 

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Facebook Plans to Hire 10,000 in EU to Build ‘Metaverse’

Facebook says it plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to work on a new computing platform.

The company said in a blog post Sunday that those high-skilled workers will help build “the metaverse,” a futuristic notion for connecting people online that encompasses augmented and virtual reality.

Facebook executives have been touting the metaverse as the next big thing after the mobile internet as they also contend with other matters such as antitrust crackdowns, the testimony of a whistleblowing former employee and concerns about how the company handles vaccine-related and political misinformation on its platform.

In a separate blog post Sunday, the company defended its approach to combating hate speech, in response to a Wall Street Journal article that examined the company’s inability to detect and remove hateful and excessively violent posts.

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Greece Grapples with Extensive Destruction After Flooding in Athens

A two-day storm in Athens last week killed a 70-year-old farmer, whose car was washed away as he was rushing to tend to his herd of sheep. Dozens of other people, including tourists, were rescued from the floodwaters that destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses.

Roads turned into rivers, homes and apartment blocks collapsed like decks of cards and dozens of children at a school in Athens were ordered to stand on their desks to be saved as floodwaters surged into their classrooms like a tsunami.

The storm is the latest environmental calamity to hit Greece after devastating fires razed thousands of hectares of forest just two months ago, threatening even the nation’s capital.

And yet it is Athens, once more, Europe’s oldest metropolis and its 5 million residents who find themselves hardest hit, reeling again – because of long-standing flaws in infrastructure and urban planning that authorities have failed to remedy as the ancient city, they say, has pushed its way aggressively into modernity.

Speaking to a local broadcaster, Yiorgos Patoulis , the governor of the greater region of Athens acknowledged the deficiencies but said he could not be held accountable for decades of problems related to the capital’s urban planning.

The anger and despair are so intense this time around that an Athens prosecutor has singled out a near-deadly incident, ordering an urgent investigation, hoping to spark action from authorities.

The case involves dozens of commuters, including children who were traveling in a bus. The vehicle was immobilized by water that engulfed an underpass on a main motorway, nearly submerging the vehicle and its passengers not far from the center of Athens.

Critics have long blamed what they describe as the capital’s anarchic planning and years of infrastructure failings that have seen streams, that once snaked down the hills of this ancient capital and its surrounding plains, blocked and cemented … turned into motorways, streets or even parking lots, instead.

Without the creation of proper drainage, the lightest downpour here leads to flooding.

After devastating fires in August, razed forests that ringed the capital were not cleared, pushing trunks and tons of debris into already clogged drains across Athens.  

“I’ve never seen these drains cleared by anyone for as long as I know,” a local woman told a television network. “Look at them,” she said, standing just centimeters away from where the bus became stuck. She said the drains are clogged with sticks, stones, garbage and tons of masks.

Similar complaints about a lack of infrastructure and state response have poured in from all parts of the country.

Dimitris Stanitsas, the mayor of Ithaki, said his island would have been swallowed by floodwaters had local crews not moved to shatter pavements and roadblocks to allow waters gushing through roads and side streets, into the sea.   

The state has to finally take interest and undertake vital infrastructure projects to better shield its people and the country as a whole, he said.

State spending was cut dramatically during a 10-year recession, leaving key development works either idle or incomplete. Among them, a state-of-the arts drainage system, close to wear the bus and its passengers nearly drowned.

The sweeping destruction caused by the storm has sparked fierce debate with a blame game played out among state, local authorities and construction companies.

But with the fallout of climate change already obvious, experts like Efthymios Lekkas, a professor specializing in natural disasters, say the blame game is diverting attention from what has to happen; rapid state reaction.

“It’s no longer about climate change,” Lekkas said. “We are living a climate crisis, and phenomena like these are going to be so much more common. If Greece and its capital are to be shielded, then they have to be fitted with proper infrastructure.”

Government officials contacted by VOA were not available for comment.

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Russian Actor and Director Making 1st Movie in Space Back on Earth

A Russian actor and a film director making the first move film in space returned to Earth on Sunday after spending 12 days on the International Space Station (ISS).

The Soyuz MS-18 space capsule carrying Russian ISS crew member Oleg Novitskiy, Yulia Peresild and Klim Shipenko landed in a remote area outside the western Kazakhstan at 07:35 a.m. (0435 GMT), the Russian space agency Roscosmos said. 

The crew had dedocked from the ISS three hours earlier.

Russian state TV footage showed the reentry capsule descending under its parachute above the vast Kazakh steppe, followed by ground personnel assisting the smiling crew as they emerged from the capsule.

However, Peresild, who is best known for her role in the 2015 film “Battle for Sevastopol,” said she had been sorry to leave the ISS.

“I’m in a bit of a sad mood today,” the 37-year-old actor told Russian Channel One after the landing.

“That’s because it had seemed that 12 days was such a long period of time, but when it was all over, I didn’t want to bid farewell,” she said.

Last week 90-year-old U.S. actor William Shatner – Captain James Kirk of “Star Trek” fame – became the oldest person in space aboard a rocketship flown by billionaire Jeff Bezos’s company Blue Origin.

Peresild and Shipenko have been sent to Russian Star City, the home of Russia’s space program on the outskirts of Moscow for their post-flight recovery which will take about a week, Roscosmos said.

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Volunteers in the Sky Watch Over Migrant Rescues by Sea

As dozens of African migrants traversed the Mediterranean Sea on a flimsy white rubber boat, a small aircraft circling 1,000 feet above closely monitored their attempt to reach Europe.

The twin-engine Seabird, owned by the German non-governmental organization Sea-Watch, is tasked with documenting human rights violations committed against migrants at sea and relaying distress cases to nearby ships and authorities who have increasingly ignored their pleas.

On this cloudy October afternoon, an approaching thunderstorm heightened the dangers for the overcrowded boat. Nearly 23,000 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe since 2014, according to the United Nations’ migration agency.

“Nour 2, Nour 2, this is aircraft Seabird, aircraft Seabird,” the aircraft’s tactical coordinator, Eike Bretschneider, communicated via radio with the only vessel nearby. The captain of the Nour 2 agreed to change course and check up on the flimsy boat. But after seeing the boat had a Libyan flag, the people refused its assistance, the captain reported back on the crackling radio.

“They say they only have 20 liters of fuel left,” the captain, who did not identify himself by name, told the Seabird. “They want to continue on their journey.”

The small boat’s destination was the Italian island of Lampedusa, where tourists sitting in outdoor cafés sipped on Aperol Spritz, oblivious to what was unfolding some 111 kilometers south of them on the Mediterranean Sea.

 

Bretschneider, a 30-year-old social worker, made some quick calculations and concluded the migrants must have departed Libya approximately 20 hours ago and still had some 15 hours ahead of them before they reached Lampedusa. That was if their boat did not fall apart or capsize along the way.

Despite the risks, many migrants and refugees say they’d rather die trying to cross to Europe than be returned to Libya where, upon disembarkation, they are placed in detention centers and often subjected to relentless abuse.

Bretschneider sent the rubber boat’s coordinates to the air liaison officer sitting in Berlin, who then relayed the position (inside the Maltese Search and Rescue zone) to both Malta and Italy. Unsurprisingly to them, they received no response.

Running low on fuel, the Seabird had to leave the scene.

“We can only hope the people will reach the shore at some moment or will get rescued by a European coast guard vessel,” Bretschneider told AP as they made their way back.

The activists have grown used to having their distress calls go unanswered.

For years human rights groups and international law experts have denounced that European countries are increasingly ignoring their international obligations to rescue migrants at sea. Instead, they’ve outsourced rescues to the Libyan Coast Guard, which has a track record of reckless interceptions as well as ties to human traffickers and militias.

“I’m sorry, we don’t speak with NGOs,” a man answering the phone of the Maltese Rescue and Coordination Center told a member of Sea-Watch inquiring about a boat in distress this past June. In a separate call to the Rescue and Coordination Center in Rome, another Sea-Watch member was told: “We have no information to report to you.”

 

Maltese and Italian authorities did not respond to questions sent by AP.

Trying to get in touch with the Libyan rescue and coordination center is an even greater challenge. On the rare occasion that someone does pick up, the person on the other side of the line often doesn’t speak English.

More than 49,000 migrants have reached Italian shores so far this year according to the Italian Ministry of Interior, nearly double the number of people who crossed in the same time period last year.

Although it is illegal for European vessels to take rescued migrants back to Libya themselves, information shared by the EU’s surveillance drones and planes have allowed the Libyan Coast Guard to considerably increase its ability to stop migrants from reaching Europe. So far this year, it has intercepted roughly half of those who have attempted to leave, returning more than 26,000 men, women and children to Libya.

Sea-Watch has relied on millions of euros from individual donations over several years to expand its air monitoring capabilities as well. It now has two small aircraft that, with a bird’s-eye view, can find boats in distress much faster than ships can.

Taking off from Lampedusa, which is closer to North Africa than Italy, the planes can reach a distress case relatively quickly if its position is known. But when there are no exact coordinates, they must fly a search pattern, sometimes for hours, and scan the sea with the help of binoculars.

Even when flying low, finding a tiny boat in the vast Mediterranean can strain the most experienced eyes. The three- to four-person crew of volunteers reports every little dot on the horizon that could potentially be people in distress.

“Target at 10 o’clock,” the Seabird’s photographer sitting in the back alerted on a recent flight.

The pilot veered left to inspect it.

 

“Fishing boat, disregard,” Bretschneider, the tactical coordinator, replied.

In rough seas, breaking waves can play tricks and for brief moments resemble wobbly boats in the distance. Frequently, the “targets” turn out to be nothing at all, and the Seabird returns to land hours later without any new information.

But finding boats in distress is only the first challenge. Getting them rescued is just as difficult, if not harder.

With the absence of state rescue vessels and NGO ships getting increasingly blocked from leaving port, Sea-Watch often relies on the good will of merchant vessels navigating the area. But many are also reluctant to get involved after several commercial ships found themselves stuck at sea for days as they waited for Italy’s or Malta’s permission to disembark rescued migrants. Others have taken them back to Libya in violation of maritime and refugee conventions.

This week, a court in Naples convicted the captain of an Italian commercial ship for returning 101 migrants to Libya in 2018.

Without any state authority, the Seabird can only remind captains of their duty to rescue persons in distress. In this way, Bretschneider recently got an Italian supply vessel to save 65 people from a drifting migrant boat, just moments before the Libyan Coast Guard arrived.

On another mission a few days later, the Seabird returned from its flight without knowing what would happen to the people they had seen on the white rubber boat.

Bretschneider checked his phone at dinner that night, hoping for good news. On the other side of the Mediterranean, 17 bodies had washed up in Western Libya, apparently from a different boat.

The next day the Seabird took off to look for the white rubber boat again, in vain. On their way back, they got a message from land.

The white rubber boat had reached waters near Lampedusa and was picked up by the Italian Coast Guard. The people had made it. 

 

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Macron Condemns 1961 ‘Inexcusable’ Paris Massacre of Algerians

French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday condemned as “inexcusable” a deadly crackdown by Paris police on a 1961 protest by Algerians whose scale was covered up for decades, disappointing activists who hoped for an even stronger recognition of responsibility.

Macron told relatives of victims on the 60th anniversary of the bloodshed that crimes were committed on the night of Oct. 17, 1961, under the command of the notorious Paris police chief Maurice Papon.

He acknowledged that several dozen protesters had been killed, “their bodies thrown into the River Seine,” and he paid tribute to their memory.

The precise number of victims has never been made clear, and some activists fear several hundred could have been killed.

Macron “recognized the facts: that the crimes committed that night under Maurice Papon are inexcusable for the Republic,” the Elysee said.

“This tragedy was long hushed-up, denied or concealed,” it added in a statement.

Algerian President Abdelmadjidn Tebboune said there was “strong concern for treating issues of history and memory without complacency or compromising principles, and with a sharp sense of responsibility,” free from “the dominance of arrogant colonialist thought,” his office said in a statement.

The deadly 1961 crackdown revealed the horror of “massacres and crimes against humanity that will remain engraved in the collective memory,” the statement, released by his office, continued.

“There were bodies on all sides, I was very afraid,” recalled Bachir Ben-Aissa Saadi, who took part in the rally and was 14 years old at the time.

The rally was called in the final year of France’s increasingly violent attempt to retain Algeria as a north African colony, and in the middle of a bombing campaign targeting mainland France by pro-independence militants.

In the 1980s, Papon was revealed to have been a collaborator with the occupying Nazis in World War II and complicit in the deportation of Jews. He was convicted of crimes against humanity but later released.

Macron, the first French president to attend a memorial ceremony for those killed, observed a minute of silence in their memory at the Bezons bridge over the Seine on the outskirts of Paris where the protest started.

His comments that crimes were committed went further than predecessor Francois Hollande, who acknowledged in 2012 that the protesting Algerians had been “killed during a bloody repression.”

The president, France’s first leader born after the colonial era, has made a priority of historical reconciliation and forging a modern relationship with former colonies.

But Macron, who is expected to seek reelection next year, is wary about provoking a backlash from political opponents.

His far-right electoral opponents, nationalists Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, are outspoken critics of efforts to acknowledge or show repentance for past crimes.

Historian Emmanuel Blanchard told AFP that Macron’s comments represented progress and had gone much further than those made by Hollande in 2012.

But he took issue with the decision to pin responsibility on Papon alone, saying that then Prime Minister Michel Debre and President Charles de Gaulle had not been held to account over the ensuing cover-up or the fact Papon would remain Paris police chief until 1967.

The statement by Macron “is progress but not complete. We hoped for more,” Mimouna Hadjam of the Africa93 anti-racism association told AFP.

“Papon did not act alone. People were tortured, massacred in the heart of Paris and those high up knew,” Hadjam added.

Domonique Sopo, the head of SOS Racism, said while the comments were welcome, Macron was showing a tendency of taking “small steps” on such issues by reducing responsibility to Papon alone.

The 1961 protests were called in response to a strict curfew imposed on Algerians to prevent the underground FLN resistance movement from collecting funds following a spate of deadly attacks on French police officers.

A report commissioned by the president from historian Benjamin Stora earlier this year urged a truth commission over the Algerian war, but Macron ruled out issuing any official apology. 

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Suspect in Stabbing Death of British MP Amess Identified

A British member of Parliament died Friday after being stabbed several times at a church in what police said Saturday was a terrorist attack.

David Amess, 69, was a member of the Conservative Party and represented Southend West in Essex, England. He was attacked Friday while visiting constituents in his home district in southeastern Britain, officials said.

In a statement Saturday, the Metropolitan Police said that while their investigation was in its early stages, it “has revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Amess one of the “kindest, nicest and most gentle people in politics” and noted his efforts to end cruelty to animals. “All our hearts are full of shock and sadness today at the loss of Sir David Amess,” Johnson said.

Police have identified a 25-year-old suspect, Ali Harbi Ali, who is in custody. The man, of Somali heritage, had previously been referred to Prevent, the BBC reported. Prevent is a counterterror program in the U.K. designed to deradicalize those at risk of being recruited by extremist groups [[ ]]. It is unclear how long Ali was in the program.

Amess, who had been a member of Parliament since 1983, was married and had five children.

Amess is the second member of Parliament to be killed in five years. Jo Cox was murdered by one of her constituents, a far-right extremist, five years ago.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Czechs Want to Know What’s Wrong With Their Ill President

When Vaclav Havel nearly died of a ruptured intestine as Czech president in 1998, doctors provided daily updates on his condition.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, a Czech president is again hospitalized but the public has not been told what is wrong with him.

President Milos Zeman was taken into intensive care in hospital on October 10. Since then, his spokesperson and doctors have not provided a diagnosis or said how long he will need to recover.

Politicians and members of the public are now asking whether the 77-year-old president is fit to carry out his duties in the central European country, where communists held power for over four decades until the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

It is all the more worrying, they say, because the Czech Republic has just held an election and it is the president’s duty to appoint the next prime minister.

“We are beginning to look like the Soviet Union or North Korea,” said Michael Zantovsky, a spokesperson for Havel in the early 1990s who now runs the Vaclav Havel Library, drawing comparisons with the secretive communist era.

The president’s spokesperson has said Zeman has been communicating and following developments in the country. Being in the hospital has not gotten in the way of the president’s constitutional duties, he said.

The spokesperson did not respond on Saturday to a request for comment on Zeman’s condition.

Two groups that were in opposition won a majority in the lower house of parliament in the October 8-9 election. Under the constitution, it is Zeman’s duty to accept the government’s resignation and appoint a prime minister after the new parliament convenes for its first session on November 8.

The upper house requested information about the president’s prognosis in a letter to Zeman’s office on Monday. It had received no response as of Saturday, a spokesperson for the chamber said.

‘Not in good hands’

Speaker Milos Vystrcil said on Friday the Senate could enact a constitutional clause to relieve Zeman of his duties after the lower house convenes if the situation does not change.

He questioned whether Zeman was aware of what his office was doing, telling reporters: “The president is not in good hands.”

The Czech president is directly elected. The government has most of the executive powers but the president is the chief commander of the armed forces, appoints key personnel including judges and central bank board members, and can issue amnesties.

If the president were stripped of his powers on the grounds of incapacitation, his duties would be divided, mostly between the lower house speaker — who would appoint the new prime minister — and the prime minister.

Zeman’s spokesperson said on Twitter the constitutional clause was meant for situations such as when the president is in a coma or abducted.

“If grossly abused against a person who normally communicates and thinks, the president would become a de facto state prisoner,” the spokesperson said.

Citing a lack of clearance from Zeman, the hospital has said only that the president had complications related to an undisclosed chronic illness.

Zeman’s wife said on Thursday his recovery would “take time” but gave no details.

Lower house head Radek Vondracek visited Zeman on Thursday and said the president felt better.

The hospital rebuked Vondracek for visiting without doctors’ knowledge, distanced itself from his comments on Zeman’s health and asked police to enforce a ban on visits without doctors’ consent.

Zeman, a smoker, has previously battled diabetes and neuropathy — nerve damage or dysfunction — in his legs, and he has started using a wheelchair.

He spent eight days in hospital in September, when his office said no life-threatening problems were discovered.

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