TPM World News

MOSCOW (AP) — The explosion at a supermarket in Russia’s second-largest city was a terrorist attack, President Vladimir Putin said Thursday, adding that another attack had been thwarted.

At least 13 people were injured Wednesday evening when an improvised explosive device went off at a storage area for customers’ bags at the supermarket in St. Petersburg. Investigators said the device contained 200 grams (7 ounces) of explosives and was rigged with shrapnel to cause more damage.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Putin made his comment Thursday at an awards ceremony at the Kremlin for troops who took part in Russia’s Syria campaign but did not offer any details. He also said another terrorist attack had been thwarted in St. Petersburg but did not elaborate.

Putin has portrayed Russia’s operation in Syria as a pre-emptive strike against terrorism at home. He said the threat of attacks at home would have been much worse if Russia had not intervened in Syria.

“What would have happened if those thousands (of terrorists) that I have just spoken about, hundreds of them had come back to us, trained and armed,” he said in comments to Russian news agencies.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov would not say what led authorities to declare the attack an act of terrorism, but he said the fact that the bomb was rigged with shrapnel proved it “was a terrorist attack anyway.”

Earlier this month, Putin telephoned President Donald Trump to thank him for a CIA tip that helped thwart a series of bombings in St. Petersburg, Putin’s hometown.

The Federal Security Service said seven suspects linked to the Islamic State group were arrested in connection to the alleged plot. The Kremlin said the suspects had planned to bomb Kazan Cathedral and other crowded sites.

In April, a suicide bombing in St. Petersburg’s subway left 16 people dead and wounded more than 50. Russian authorities identified the bomber as a 22-year old Kyrgyz-born Russian national.

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway will be the first foreign leader to call on President Donald Trump in the new year.

The White House announced Tuesday that Trump will welcome Solberg to the White House on Jan. 10. The White House says Trump looks forward to exchanging views with Solberg on relations between the U.S. and Norway, as well as on how to make progress on regional and global security issues and economic prosperity.

The leaders also plan to discuss defense and security goals within NATO and the coalition aligned against the Islamic State group, along with trade matters.

The White House announced the visit while Trump was in Florida for the holidays.

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A brutal attack claimed by the Islamic State group devastated a two-story Shiite Muslim cultural center in the Afghan capital on Thursday, killing at least 41 people and wounding another 84, many suffering severe burns from the intensity of the explosions.

The IS-linked Aamaq news agency said three bombs were used in the ferocious assault as well as a single suicide bomber who blew himself up inside the center, where scores of people had gathered to mark the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union.

The claim reflects eyewitness reports that said one bomber sneaked into the center and exploded his device. Other explosions occurred outside the building, which also houses the pro-Iranian Afghan Voice news agency, which may also have been a target in the attack.

Earlier, Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said an unknown number of suicide attackers set off an explosion outside the center before carrying out an attack inside.

In its statement to Aamaq news agency, the IS said the center was being funded by Iran and used to propagate Shiite beliefs.

Ali Reza Ahmadi, a journalist with the Afghan Voice, told The Associated Press he had been in his office when the explosion shattered the building. He leapt from his second-story office to the roof of the building where he saw flames from the basement.

“I jumped from the roof toward the basement yelling at people to get water to put out the fire,” he said.

Shiite leader Abdul Hussain Ramazandada said witnesses reported at least one suicide bomber sneaked into the event and was sitting among the participants. He exploded his device and as people fled more explosions occurred, he said.

At nearby Istiqlal Hospital, director Mohammed Sabir Nasib said the emergency room was overwhelmed with the dead and wounded. Additional doctors and nurses were called in to help and at the height of the tragedy more than 50 doctors and nurses were working to save the wounded, most of whom suffered severe burns.

The death toll rose as the day progressed. By late afternoon Wahid Mujro, spokesman for the public health ministry, said 41 were dead and 84 others were wounded.

The two-story cultural center is located in a poor area of the Shiite-dominated Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood in the west of the capital. The center is a simple structure surrounded by sun-dried mud homes where some of Kabul’s poorest live.

In an interview with The Associated Press, a senior member of the Shiite cleric council, Mohammad Asif Mesbah, said the center may have been targeted because it houses the deeply pro-Iranian Afghan Voice news agency. Its owner Sayed Eissa Hussaini Mazari is a strong proponent of Iran and his publication is dominated by Iranian news. Iran is a majority Shiite Muslim nation.

The local Islamic State affiliate has carried out several attacks targeting Shiites in Afghanistan. The IS issued a warning earlier this year following an attack on the Iraqi Embassy in Kabul vowing to target Afghanistan’s Shiites. Since then, the IS has taken credit for at least two attacks on Shiite mosques in Kabul and one in the western city of Herat, killing scores of worshippers.

In a telephone interview with The AP, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid denied involvement in Thursday’s attack on the cultural center.

The IS affiliate, made up of Sunni extremists, view Shiites as apostates. The IS in Afghanistan is a toxic mix of Uzbek militants belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan who broke with the Taliban, as well as disenchanted insurgents who left the much larger and more well-established Taliban.

As attacks targeting Shiites have increased in Kabul, residents of this area have grown increasingly afraid. Most schools have additional armed guards from among the local population. Still, Ramazandada said security at the cultural center was light.

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani called the attack a “crime against humanity.”

In a statement released by the presidential palace, Ghani said: “The terrorist have killed our people. The terrorists have attacked our mosques, our holy places and now our cultural center.” He called them attacks against Islam and “all human values.”

In a statement, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, John R. Bass, called the attack “horrific” and said “we remain confident the Afghan government and people, supported by their friends and partners, will defeat those behind these terrible acts.”

Separately, Dawlat Abad District Gov. Mohammad Karim said a powerful mine killed six shepherd children ranging in age from 8 to 10 on Wednesday.

Afghanistan has the highest number of mine victims in the world, which along with other roadside bombs, kill or wound an estimated 140 people every month.

Elsewhere, a Taliban attack on a security police post in central Ghazni province Wednesday night left three police dead and one other wounded, said Mohammad Zaman, provincial chief of police.

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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Tens of thousands of nationalists marched in a demonstration organized by far-right groups in Warsaw Saturday, as Poles celebrated their country’s Independence Day.

The far-right march was one of many events marking Poland’s rebirth as a nation in 1918 after being wiped off the map for 123 years. Earlier in the day, President Andrzej Duda presided over state ceremonies also attended by European Union president Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister.

But the march has become the largest Independence Day event in recent years, overshadowing official state observances and other patriotic events. Some participants expressed sympathy for xenophobic or white supremacist ideas, with one banner reading, “White Europe of brotherly nations.”

Participants marched under the slogan “We Want God,” words from an old Polish religious song that President Donald Trump quoted from during a visit to Warsaw earlier this year. Speakers spoke of standing against liberals and defending Christian values.

Many carried the national white-and-red flag as others set off flares and firecrackers, filling the air with red smoke. Some also carried banners depicting a falanga, a far-right symbol dating to the 1930s.

Police estimated that 60,000 people took part, and said there were no reports of violence. Many were young men, some with their faces covered or with beer bottles in hand, but families and older Poles also participated.

The march has become one of the largest such demonstration in Europe, and on Saturday it drew far-right leaders from elsewhere in Europe, including Tommy Robinson from Britain and Roberto Fiore from Italy.

State broadcaster TVP, which reflects the conservative government’s line, called it a “great march of patriots,” and in its broadcasts described the event as one that drew mostly regular Poles expressing their love of Polands, not extremists.

“It was a beautiful sight,” Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said. “We are proud that so many Poles have decided to take part in a celebration connected to the Independence Day holiday.”

A smaller counter-protest by an anti-fascist movement also took place. Organizers kept the two groups apart to prevent violence.

Independence Day marks Poland regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being partitioned and ruled since the late 18th century by Russia, Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Duda oversaw ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, walking past a military guard before the raising of the flags and cannon salutes. After delivering a speech he took part in a wreath-laying ceremony, kneeling and crossing himself at the monument to all unknown soldiers killed fighting for the country.

Tusk, who attended at Duda’s invitation, also paid his respects at the monument.
Ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski noted that Poland has not always been fully independent since 1918, a reference to Germany’s occupation during World War II and the decades spent under Moscow’s direction during the Cold War.

Still, he said: “The Polish state was internationally recognized the whole time and that is a great achievement.”

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TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — A Danish inventor has admitted dismembering a Swedish journalist who disappeared from his home-made submarine in August and has changed his story about how she died, but still denies killing her, police investigating the bizarre case said Monday.

According to Copenhagen police, Peter Madsen now says Kim Wall died as result of carbon monoxide poisoning inside the submarine while he was on deck. Previously he had said she died after being accidentally hit by a heavy hatch in the submarine’s tower.

“This explanation (by Madsen) naturally will lead the police into gathering additional statements from the coroner and the armed forces’ submarine experts,” said Copenhagen police investigator Jens Moller Jensen.

Police say Madsen acknowledged he dismembered her body and threw it into Koge Bay southwest of Copenhagen.

Wall’s torso was found on a southern Copenhagen coast in late August, and her head, legs and clothes were found at sea this month. No fractures to Wall’s skull were found that would have supported the claim that she was killed by the hatch.

Wall was working on a story about Madsen and was last seen aboard his home-made submarine Nautilus as it left Copenhagen in August.

The next day, Madsen was rescued from the sinking submarine without Wall. Police believe he deliberately sank the vessel.

Madsen’s pre-trial detention is set to expire Tuesday but police said no new hearing will be held as the 46-year-old has voluntarily agreed to remain in detention.

Madsen is currently charged with murder and mutilating Wall’s body. Police said Monday that the charges have now been extended to include sexual assault without intercourse. An examination of Wall’s torso revealed wounds to her genitals and ribcage that were believed to have been caused during her death or shortly after.

“We’re taking an approach that there exists a sexual motive,” Jensen told Swedish broadcaster SVT.

Police have finished an unsuccessful search for the phones of Madsen and Wall in the past weeks but said they are mulling reactivating that search if needed.

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VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — A Dutch forensic team arrived in Malta on Tuesday to help investigate the car bomb slaying of a journalist who scrutinized the country’s top politicians and other powerful figures, an official said, as angry Maltese demanded the truth about who killed the anti-corruption crusader.

Maltese Home Minister Michael Farrugia said that FBI agents will also be sent to the Mediterranean island in the coming days to assist police in Monday’s killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia, 53, who exposed Maltese links to offshore tax havens through the Panama Paper leaks.

“My mother was assassinated because she stood between the rule of law and those who sought to violate it, like many strong journalists,” her son, Matthew Caruana Galizia, himself an investigative journalist, wrote on Facebook. “But she was also targeted because she was the only person doing so. This is what happens when the institutions of the state are incapacitated.”

It was unclear who might have engineered the bombing. Her car exploded, spinning in the air and landing as a fiery hulk in a field, right after she left her home Monday afternoon.

Her son Matthew, who was part of a Pulitzer-Prize-winning consortium behind the Panama Papers leaks, wrote: “I am never going to forget, running around the inferno in the field, trying to figure out a way to open the door, the horn of the car still blaring, screaming at two policemen who showed up with a single fire extinguisher to use it.”

“They stared at me. ‘I’m sorry, there is nothing we can do,’ one of them said. I looked down and there were my mother’s body parts all around me,” he recounted.

One of the topics she probed grew out of revelations from the 2016 Panama Papers leak. She wrote that the wife of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, the country’s energy minister and the government’s chief of staff had offshore holdings in Panama to receive money from Azerbaijan.

The Muscats denied they had companies in Panama. The minister and chief of staff denied that the Panama companies were opened to receive money from Azerbaijan and filed libel suits against the journalist.

Ordinary Maltese, many of whom made Daphne Caruana Galizia’s blog, Running Commentary, the first thing they read daily on the 400,000-population island nation, were shocked and angered.

Outside Malta’s Law Courts, about 200 people held an hour-long sit-in to call for justice for the slain journalist in the capital, Valletta. Graffiti quoting the last words she wrote — “There are crooks everywhere you look” — were written on one of Malta’s major roads Tuesday.

In posts to online newspaper coverage, Maltese expressed hope her death could be a turning point in a national narrative they see as riddled with corruption.

A tax haven, Malta’s financial institutions have a reputation as a convenient place in the middle of the Mediterranean to move questionably earned money or to avoid taxes.

Matthew Caruana Galizia, one of the slain woman’s three sons, contended that a “culture of impunity has been allowed to flourish by the government of Malta.” He added: “If the institutions were already working, there would be no assassination to investigate — and my brothers and I would still have a mother.”

On the European mainland, several EU lawmakers echoed similar concerns.

EU parliamentarian Sven Giegold, a spokesman for the Greens in the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry on money laundering and tax evasion, demanded that the EU scrutinize Malta.

“The murder of a courageous journalist who has been fighting with corrupt elites in her country must lead to a European outcry,” Giegold said. In a statement, the lawmaker described Malta as a “mecca for money launderers and tax avoiders.”

In Italy, a senator from the populist 5-Star Movement, Mario Michele Giarrusso, noted that the Italian Parliament’s anti-Mafia commission was coming on a money-laundering fact-finding visit to Malta on Oct. 23-24, a previously scheduled mission.

The car bomb, Giarrusso contended, was meant to “shut Daphne Caruana Galizia’s mouth” before the commission arrived.

Malta is experiencing an exponential expansion in online gaming businesses as well as financial services businesses.

Italian prosecutors who specialize in organized crime investigations have been warning for years that Italy’s powerful crime syndicates are increasingly laundering illicit revenues through the financial services sector. They have also said the Naples-area Camorra syndicate has heavily infiltrated online gaming in Italy and beyond.

Italy’s national organized crime prosecutor, Franco Roberti, told reporters in Milan that the Maltese slaying reminded him of the 2006 killing of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaja. Noting Malta was an EU member, Roberti said it was imperative that the truth come out.

“Europe can’t tolerate that a journalist who denounces corruption is killed,” Italian news agency ANSA quoted Roberti as saying.

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MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — More than 300 people were killed in the weekend truck bombing in Somalia’s capital and scores remained missing, authorities said Monday, as the fragile Horn of Africa nation reeled from one of the world’s worst attacks in years.

As funerals continued, the government said the death toll was expected to rise.

Nearly 400 people were injured in the bombing Saturday that targeted a crowded street in Mogadishu. Somalia’s government blamed the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab, though the Islamic extremist group has not claimed responsibility for the attack. A new statement by the SITE Intelligence Group said al-Shabab posted claims of responsibility as recently as Monday for other attacks on Somali and African Union forces — but not for Saturday’s blast.

Still, analysts said there was little doubt the Islamic extremist group carried out the bombing, one of the deadliest in sub-Saharan Africa. “No other group in Somalia has the capacity to put together a bomb of this size, in this nature,” said Matt Bryden, a security consultant on the Horn of Africa.

Nearly 70 people remained missing, based on accounts from relatives, said police Capt. Mohamed Hussein. He said many bodies were burned to ashes in the attack.

As the death toll rose to 302, overwhelmed hospitals in Mogadishu were struggling to treat badly wounded victims, many burned beyond recognition. Exhausted doctors struggled to keep their eyes open as the screams from victims and bereaved families echoed in the halls.

Africa’s deadliest Islamic extremist group, al-Shabab has waged war in Somalia for more than a decade, often targeting high-profile areas of the capital. Earlier this year, it vowed to step up attacks after both the Trump administration and Somalia’s recently elected Somali-American president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, announced new military efforts against the group.

After Saturday’s attack, Mohamed declared three days of mourning and joined thousands of people who responded to a plea by hospitals to donate blood.

Meanwhile, a Turkish military plane carrying 35 critically wounded people arrived in the Turkish capital, Ankara, where they were taken to hospitals for treatment. Countries including Kenya and Ethiopia have offered to send medical aid in response to what Somali’s government called a “national disaster,” Information Minister Abdirahman Osman said. A plane carrying a medical team from Djibouti also arrived to evacuate the wounded, according to health ministry official Mohamed Ahmed.

Mogadishu, a city long accustomed to deadly bombings by al-Shabab, was stunned by the force of Saturday’s blast. The explosion shattered hopes of recovery in an impoverished country left fragile by decades of conflict, and it again raised doubts over the government’s ability to secure the seaside city of more than 2 million people.

The United States condemned the bombing, saying “such cowardly attacks reinvigorate the commitment of the United States to assist our Somali and African Union partners to combat the scourge of terrorism.” It tweeted a photo of its charge d’affaires in Somalia donating blood. But the U.S. Africa Command said U.S. forces had not been asked to provide aid. Pentagon spokesman Col. Robert Manning said Monday the U.S. currently has about 400 troops in Somalia, adding “we’re not going to speculate” about sending more.

The U.S. military has stepped up drone strikes and other efforts this year against al-Shabab, which is also fighting the Somali military and over 20,000 African Union forces in the country.

Saturday’s blast occurred two days after the head of the U.S. Africa Command was in Mogadishu to meet with Somalia’s president, and two days after the country’s defense minister and army chief resigned for undisclosed reasons.

The United Nations special envoy to Somalia called the attack “revolting.” Michael Keating said the U.N. and African Union were supporting the Somali government’s response with “logistical support, medical supplies and expertise.”

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — At least five civilians were wounded when several rockets were fired toward Kabul international airport in the Afghan capital, officials said Wednesday. The attack came as U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg were in town for a visit.

Najib Danish, spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said one rocket stuck a home near the airport, wounding the five victims. He said one victim was a woman who was “not in a good health condition.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack on his official Twitter account.

Danish said Afghan security forces surrounded an area where they suspected the rockets might have been fired. “A search operation is underway in the area by police units,” he said.

Tumor Shah Hamedi, director of Kabul airport, said all flights were halted as result of the attack.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said during a joint news conference with Mattis and Stoltenberg at the presidential palace that special forces troops brought the attack under control. Mattis called the attack “a crime” during the news conference, which was broadcast live.

Both Mattis and Stoltenberg have pledged continued support for Afghanistan and vowed to do everything possible so the country “doesn’t again become a safe haven for international terrorists.”

Stoltenberg said NATO is aware of “the cost of staying in Afghanistan, but the cost of leaving would be even higher.” He said “if NATO forces leave too soon, there is a risk that Afghanistan may return to a state of chaos and once again become a safe haven for international terrorism.”

Stoltenberg also said NATO was committed to funding the Afghan security forces until at least 2020, and would continue to provide them almost a $1 billion each year.

Ghani said the Taliban can choose either align with international terrorism or renounce violence and join a peace process with the government.

Mattis said Washington supports a negotiated settlement between the Taliban and Afghanistan. “The sooner the Taliban recognizes they cannot win with bombs, the sooner the killing will end,” he said.

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia on Tuesday announced that women will be allowed to drive for the first time in the ultra-conservative kingdom next summer, fulfilling a key demand of women’s rights activists who faced detention for defying the ban.

The kingdom was the only the country in the world to bar women from driving and for years had garnered negative publicity internationally for detaining women who defied the ban.

The move, which has been welcomed by the United States, represents a significant opening for women in Saudi Arabia, where women’s rights have steadily and slowly gained ground over the years. Saudi women remain largely under the whim of male relatives due to guardianship laws.

King Salman and his young son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have tested the waters though, allowing women into the country’s main stadium in the capital, Riyadh, for national day celebrations this month. The stadium had previously been reserved for all-male crowds to watch sporting events. The king and his son have also opened the country to more entertainment and fun.

Women’s rights activists since the 1990s have been pushing for the right to drive, saying it represents their larger struggle for equal rights under the law.

Some ultraconservative clerics in Saudi Arabia, who wield power and influence in the judiciary and education sectors, had warned against allowing women to drive. They argued it would corrupt society and lead to sin.

Women in Saudi Arabia have long had to rely on male relatives to get to work, run errands and simply move around. The more affluent have male drivers and more recently, in major cities, women could access ride hailing apps like Uber and Careem.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency and state TV reported the news late Tuesday evening, saying King Salman decreed that both men and women to be issued drivers’ licenses.

Women, however, will not be allowed to obtain licenses immediately. A committee will be formed to look into how to implement the new order, which is slated to come into effect in June 2018.

The kingdom had held out on allowing women to drive, despite a number of social openings and gains for women, including granting women the right to vote and run in elections for the first time in late 2015.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. is “happy” with the move, calling it “a great step in the right direction for that country.” She did not comment on whether Saudi Arabia still needs to do more to ensure full rights for its female citizens.

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MOSCOW (AP) — In its latest attempt to wrest control of the Internet, Russia’s communications agency on Tuesday threatened to block access to Facebook if the company refuses to store its data locally.

Alexander Zharov, chief of the Federal Communications Agency, told Russian news agencies on Tuesday that they will work to “make Facebook comply with the law” on personal data, which obliges foreign companies to store it in Russia. Critics have slammed the law, which went into effect in 2015, for potentially exposing the data to Russian intelligence agencies.

Zharov said that the Russian government understands Facebook is a “unique service” but said it will not make exceptions and will have to block it next year if Facebook does not comply.

Last year, Russia blocked business-focused social network LinkedIn after a court ruled it violated the law on data storage. LinkedIn is available in Russia only if accessed via proxy servers.

In the most recent step to crack down on Internet freedom, Russia’s parliament in July outlawed the use of virtual private networks, or VPNs, and other Internet proxy services, citing concerns about the spread of extremist materials. Russians use VPNs to access blocked content such as LinkedIn by routing connections through servers outside the country.

The law obliging companies to store personal data about Russian citizens in Russia has been applied selectively since it came into force two years ago. It has been widely viewed as the Kremlin’s attempt to expand control over the Internet. Russian Internet freedom activists have urged international tech companies to reject the government’s calls to give them access to personal data, saying that this would undermine cybersecurity for millions of Russian users.

Leonid Levin, chair of the parliamentary committee on communications and information policy, in comments carried by the Interfax news agency on Tuesday expressed hope that “it would not come to” blocking Facebook and that Russian authorities would be able to negotiate with the U.S. company.

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