TPM World News

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — A Russian man wanted in the United States on suspicion of masterminding a money laundering operation involving at least $4 billion through bitcoin transactions was ordered held in custody in Greece on Wednesday until a U.S. extradition request can be examined.

The 38-year-old, who has not been officially named, has denied any involvement. He was arrested Tuesday morning in northern Greece in cooperation with U.S. authorities, with police seizing electronic equipment, including mobile phones, two laptops and five tablets, from his hotel room.

The man has been accused of laundering an estimated $4 billion since 2011 by using the online bitcoin currency. Greek police said he had been directing a criminal organization that owns, operates and manages “one of the largest cybercrime websites in the world.”

The man appeared before a prosecutor in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, who ordered him held in custody pending the extradition request examination. Under Greek law, he can be held for up to two months until the request is examined.

A Greek police official said U.S. authorities accused the man and unnamed associates of running a website that carried out bitcoin conversions for proceeds from online hacking ransom, drug running, identity theft and tax violations. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because the information was not yet officially disclosed.

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MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin on Wednesday refrained from discussing its possible response to a new package of U.S. sanctions against Russia before President Donald Trump signs them into law.

Eager to punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Congress on Tuesday overwhelmingly backed a new package of sanctions against Moscow that prohibits Trump from waiving the penalties without first getting permission from Congress.

Senior Russian officials and lawmakers said Russia was considering measures in response to the new round of sanctions, but Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said it was too early to speak about it.

Peskov told reporters in Moscow that the new sanctions, which he described as “lamentable,” have not been signed by Trump into law yet and that the Kremlin “needs to analyze it very carefully” before Putin makes a decision on how to respond.

When outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama imposed new sanctions on Russia last December, including expelling dozens of Russian diplomats and seizing two Russian recreational estates, Putin chose not to respond and said Russia would not expel U.S. diplomats despite the overwhelming expectations.

Russian officials welcomed Donald Trump’s presidential win last year, hoping to mend relations with the United States which reached a post-Cold War low under President Barack Obama. But six months into Trump’s presidency ties between the two countries remain tense, and the much-anticipated first meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin early this month did not seem to produce any tangible results.

Earlier on Wednesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov criticized the sanctions as “closing off the prospect for normalizing ties.” He told the Interfax news agency the new sanctions are pushing Russia and the U.S. “into uncharted territory both in political and diplomatic sense.”

Several Russian lawmakers said Moscow is considering how to respond to the new sanctions that aim to hit Putin and his inner circle by targeting alleged corrupt officials, human rights abusers, and crucial sectors of the Russian economy, including weapons sales and energy exports. The Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russian parliament, is already discussing the response, the chairman of its foreign affairs committee Konstantin Kosachev told reporters in Moscow.

Frants Klintsevich, first deputy chairman of the defense committee at the upper chamber of Russian parliament, warned that the new sanctions could hurt Russia’s efforts to work with the U.S. in fighting terrorism. Cooperation on counter-terrorism between Russia and the U.S. “will be extremely problematic if at all possible,” Klintsevich said in comments carried by Russian news agencies on Wednesday.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The four Arab countries isolating Qatar over its alleged support for extremists has added 18 more people and organizations to a designated terrorist list.

The countries said Tuesday the designated individuals and groups have direct or indirect ties to Qatar, and include people who have raised funds for the Nusra Front in Syria— since renamed Fatah al-Sham Front — or supported al-Qaida in Yemen. They include Qatari, Kuwaiti, Yemeni and Libyan nationals and Yemeni and Libyan groups.

The quartet of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain previously designated 59 people and 12 entities to a Qatar-linked terrorism list.

Qatar vehemently denies supporting extremists. It sees the isolation effort that began June 5 as a politically motivated smear campaign.

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BEIJING (AP) — China on Tuesday denied its fighter jet pilots operated dangerously during an encounter with a U.S. surveillance plane in international airspace in which the American pilot took evasive action to avoid a possible collision.

Spokesman Ren Guoqiang said in a statement on the defense ministry’s microblog that the performance of the pilots of the two J-10 fighters was “legal, necessary and professional.”

Ren criticized frequent close-in surveillance runs by U.S. planes as raising the chance of accidents, saying such missions “threatened China’s national security, harmed China-U.S. sea-air military safety, endangered the safety of pilots from the two sides and were the root cause of China-U.S. sea-air unexpected incidents.”

The U.S. should stop such “unsafe, unprofessional and unfriendly military activities,” Ren said, in a repetition of China’s standard policy toward U.S. surveillance missions intended at collecting Chinese computer and voice data in hopes of gaining insight into the workings of the People’s Liberation Army.

Asked about the incident at a daily briefing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Beijing objected to such missions but remained “committed to building military mutual trust with other countries.”

U.S. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said the Chinese fighters intercepted the U.S. EP-3 surveillance plane Sunday in international airspace between the East China Sea and the Yellow Sea, in an area he described as west of the Korean Peninsula.

Davis said one of the Chinese planes approached at a high rate of speed from beneath the American plane, then slowed and pulled up, prompting the EP-3 pilot to take evasive action. He called the Chinese pilot’s move unsafe.

China in 2013 declared an air defense identification zone over a partly contested portion of the East China Sea, demanding foreign aircraft declare their presence and follow Chinese orders. The U.S. and others swiftly dismissed the zone as invalid and have largely ignored it. It wasn’t clear if Sunday’s encounter took place inside the zone.

Such incidents continue to occur despite an agreement between the two sides to prevent them from sparking an international crisis, as happened in April 2001 when a Chinese jet fighter collided with a U.S. EP-3. That led to the death of the Chinese pilot and China’s detention of the U.S. air crew for 10 days after their crippled plane landed at a PLA Navy air base on the island province of Hainan.

While China has long chafed at U.S. surveillance operations targeting its military, the PLA itself has been conducting such missions further and further from its home ports.

Earlier this month, China sailed a spy ship through the narrow Tsugaru Strait separating the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido, while another was spotted last week within Australia’s exclusive economic zone where allies Australia and U.S. were conducting major war games.

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Muslim leaders urged the faithful on Tuesday to keep up their prayer protests and avoid entering a contested Jerusalem shrine, even after Israel dismantled metal detectors that initially triggered the tensions.

Israel said it would replace the metal detectors with new security arrangements based on “advanced technology,” reportedly including sophisticated cameras, but said it could take up to six months to install them.

Muslim clerics have demanded that Israel restore the situation at the shrine — the third holiest in Islam and the holiest in Judaism — to what it was before it installed the metal detectors last week.

The clerics said Tuesday that they need time to study the proposed new Israeli measures. “We need to know all the details before we decide to pray inside the compound,” said the mufti, or top Muslim cleric in Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein.

Muslim worshippers heeded the call of the clergy, with dozens performing noon prayers in the streets outside the shrine on Tuesday.

The continued protests meant that the escalating crisis between Israel and the Muslim world, which began in mid-July, has not been defused, even after Israel backed down on the metal detectors.

Jordan, the Muslim custodian of the shrine, has played a key role in trying to end the showdown over the holy site.

Over the weekend, Jordan’s efforts were complicated by a shooting at Israel’s Embassy in Amman in which an Israeli guard killed two Jordanians after being attacked by one with a screwdriver.

A 24-hour standoff was resolve after a phone call between Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Jordan initially said the guard could not leave without an investigation, but then allowed him and the rest of the embassy staff to leave to Israel late Monday.

The timing of the events — the evacuation of the diplomats, followed by the removal of the metal detectors — suggested a larger deal had been struck between the two countries.

The 37-acre (15-hectare) holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City sits on the fault line of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has triggered major confrontations in the past.

Israel had erected metal detectors at the gates to the Muslim-administered site last week after Arab gunmen killed two Israeli police guards there two days earlier.

The move incensed the Muslim world, amid allegations that Israel was trying to expand control over the site under the guise of security — a claim Israel denies.

The installation of the metal detectors set off widespread protests and deadly Israeli-Palestinian violence over the past week. Large crowds of Muslim worshippers prayed outside the shrine in protest every day, refusing to pass through the metal detectors.

Israel has denied it has a hidden agenda, portraying the metal detectors as a needed security measure.

However, the Israeli government has come under growing diplomatic pressure in recent days to reconsider the decision. It also faced growing domestic criticism that it had acted hastily, without weighing the repercussions of installing new devices at the volatile site.

The diplomatic crisis with Jordan lent more urgency to finding a solution. The deal also coincided with a visit to Israel and Jordan by Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s Mideast envoy.

His visit marked the first on-the-ground involvement by the U.S. administration since the start of the crisis over the shrine.

Israel’s security Cabinet announced the decision to remove the metal detectors early Tuesday. It said police would increase the deployment of forces until the new measures are in place.

The statement said the government would budget 100 million shekels ($28 million) to implement the security plan over a period of “up to six months.”

As custodian, Jordan has the final say over Muslim policies at the shrine, but also needs to consider public opinion, including among Palestinians in the Holy Land.

In his phone call with Netanyahu, Jordan’s king stressed the need to “remove the measures taken by the Israeli side since the recent crisis broke out” and to agree on steps that would prevent another escalation in the future, Jordan’s state news agency Petra said.

Israel captured the Old City compound, along with other territories sought for a Palestinian state, in the 1967 war. Under arrangements put in place then, Muslims administer the site and Jews can visit, but not pray there.

Jordan’s ruling Hashemite dynasty draws much of its legitimacy from its role as protector of the holy site.

However, it also maintains strategic, if discreet, security ties with Israel — a relationship that has survived several crises and repeated friction over the Jerusalem shrine.

The swift resolution of the latest diplomatic row reflected the overriding interest by both countries to protect their relationship.

However, the peace treaty with Israel remains unpopular in Jordan and the tensions at the shrine and the embassy shooting inflamed anti-Israel sentiments.

An acrimonious session of Jordan’s parliament was cut short Tuesday after lawmakers walked out in protest over the government’s handling of the shooting.

The session began with Interior Minister Ghaleb al-Zobi presenting the initial findings of the investigation to lawmakers.

He confirmed previous accounts that the guard fired after being attacked with a screwdriver by one of two Jordanians delivering furniture to a residential building linked to the embassy.

The attack was preceded by a verbal dispute, the minister said.

The Jordanian was later identified as Mohammed Jawawdeh, the 16-year-old son of the owner of a furniture store. The owner of the building, who stood next to Jawawdeh during the confrontation, was also hit by gunfire and later died of his wounds.

Hundreds of mourners attended the teen’s funeral Tuesday. Mourners chanted slogans in support of the Jerusalem shrine and called Jawawdeh a “martyr” who died in defense of the holy site.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu praised the guard for acting “calmly” during the incident. Netanyahu met the guard and Israel’s ambassador to Amman on Tuesday in Jerusalem.

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia has deployed military police to monitor the cease-fire in a safe zone in the eastern suburbs of Syria’s Damascus, the chief of the Russian General Staff said on Monday.

Russia has been providing air cover for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s offensive against the Islamic State group since 2015 and previously deployed a military police force to patrol the city of Aleppo last year.

Russia, Iran, which supports Assad, and Turkey, which backs rebels fighting his forces, in May approved a plan to create four “de-escalation” zones in Syria, pressing Assad’s air force to halt flights over designated areas across the war-torn country.

Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi told a news conference Monday that Russia set up two checkpoints and four monitoring posts in one of the zones, in the area known as eastern Ghouta. The Russian Defense Ministry last week said that the Syrian government and the opposition reached an agreement on the boundaries of the zone, several days after bombardment and airstrikes in the area.

Rudskoi also said the Syrian government and the opposition are still discussing the boundaries of another zone in Idlib province in northern Syria where there is a large al-Qaida presence.

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MOSCOW (AP) — The leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine have vowed to go ahead with a peace plan for eastern Ukraine.

France, Germany and Russia have mediated talks between the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed rebels who have been fighting since April 2014 in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s office said that French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a phone call Monday and vowed to help implement the peace deal they had brokered.

The separatists last week proclaimed a new state that aspires to include not only the areas in eastern Ukraine that they now control but territory beyond that. Poroshenko’s office said both Macron and Merkel vehemently rejected the idea of the rebel state.

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BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union officials are “activating all diplomatic channels” to press home their concerns that looming U.S. energy sanctions against Russia could impact Europe’s energy supplies.

U.S. lawmakers are scheduled to consider the sanctions package as early as Tuesday, and the bill could be sent to President Donald Trump before Congress breaks for the August recess. The measures are aimed at punishing Moscow for meddling in the presidential election and its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria.

Germany and Austria have criticized the penalties, saying they could affect European businesses involved in piping in Russian natural gas.

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said Monday that the EU’s executive arm is “following this process with some concern regarding the European Union’s energy independence and our energy security interests.”

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JERUSALEM (AP) — A deadly shooting at Israel’s Embassy in Jordan further complicated Israeli government efforts on Monday to find a way out of an escalating crisis over a major Jerusalem shrine, including mass Muslim prayer protests and Israeli-Palestinian violence.

The shooting, in which an Israeli security guard killed two Jordanians after being attacked by one of them with a screwdriver, led to a diplomatic standoff between the two countries at a time when Jordan is heavily involved in efforts to defuse the crisis over the Jerusalem holy site.

Jordan is the Muslim custodian of the shrine, which is also holy to Jews. The 37-acre walled compound is the third holiest site of Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. It is also the holiest site of Judaism, revered as the place where biblical Temples once stood.

Jordanian officials said Monday that the guard could only leave after an investigation, according to a news site linked to Jordan’s military. Israel insisted the guard has diplomatic immunity.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he spoke to the guard and assured him that Israel has experience in dealing with such a situation and would bring him home. He said Jordan’s ambassador to Israel came to the Foreign Ministry earlier Monday “to help solve the crisis.”

The drama played out as President Donald Trump’s Mideast envoy, Jason Greenblatt, headed to the Holy Land on Monday. It was the first sign of a high-level, on-the-ground attempt by the Trump administration to end the standoff between Israel and the Muslim world.

The holy site is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

The escalation began earlier this month when Arab gunmen fired from the holy site, killing two Israeli policemen. In response, Israel installed metal detectors at the site, a move that incensed the Muslim world.

The shooting at Israel’s embassy in the Jordanian capital of Amman could further inflame Jordanian public opinion against Israel.

The Amman shooting took place on Sunday evening in a residential building used by the embassy staff.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the incident began when two Jordanian workmen arrived at the building to replace furniture. It said one of the workers, later identified as a 17-year-old of Palestinian origin, attacked an Israeli security guard with a screwdriver.

The guard opened fire, killing the teen. A second Jordanian, the owner of the building who was also a physician, was hit by gunfire and later died of his wounds. The guard was lightly hurt, the ministry said.

The Jordanian news site Hala Akhbar, which is linked to the kingdom’s military, quoted diplomatic and security officials as saying that Jordan refused to let the guard leave without an investigation.

The website quoted the officials as saying that Jordan might take “diplomatic measures” if Israel refuses to meet the demand.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry did not refer to Jordanian demands, but said the guard enjoys diplomatic immunity under international conventions.

An Israeli government official said talks were under way whether to evacuate the embassy staff, given the tensions in Jordan.

He said either all or none of the staff would be evacuated, and that the security guard would not be left behind. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the diplomatic efforts underway to defuse the situation.

The father of the slain teen on Monday called for an investigation and said he would not bury his son until he was shown security camera footage of the incident.

Zakariah al-Jawawdeh told The Associated Press that his son Mohammed is a “son of Jordan who was shot on Jordanian soil” and he deserved justice.

He described Mohammed as apolitical, saying his son spent long hours working in the family furniture store and had no time to watch the news.

Israel’s security Cabinet met from late Sunday until the early hours of Monday to discuss the crisis at the shrine and the embassy shooting, and was to convene again Monday afternoon.

Netanyahu said Israel is in regular contact “with security and government officials on all levels in Amman to bring as speedy a resolution as possible to this event.”

Israel and Jordan signed a peace deal in 1994, but the agreement remains deeply unpopular in the kingdom where many residents are of Palestinian origin. Jordan and Israel have close security ties, but frequently clash over Israeli policies at the Jerusalem shrine.

Jordan’s ruling Hashemite dynasty, said to trace its ancestry to the Prophet Muhammad, draws much of its legitimacy from its role as protector of the shrine.

Meanwhile, the security Cabinet reached no decision after a six-hour meeting on how to defuse the crisis over the Jerusalem shrine, Israeli media said. The ministers were reportedly reviewing the initial decision on installing the metal detectors and weighing possible alternatives.

Israel has said the metal detectors were a needed security measure to prevent future attacks. However, the government is facing growing domestic criticism, with some commentators saying it did not fully weigh all the repercussions of introducing new measures at the most volatile spot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Muslim religious leaders have alleged that Israel is trying to expand its control at the site under the guise of security — a claim Israel denies. The tensions have led to mass prayer protests and deadly Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Ikrema Sabri, a senior Muslim cleric, said Monday that Jerusalem’s police chief, Yoram Halevi, met a day earlier with a lawyer representing the Muslim leadership to discuss solutions to the crisis.

Sabri said newly installed security cameras, described in media reports as a possible alternative to the metal detectors, were discussed.

He said the lawyer was to brief the Muslim leadership later Monday on Israel’s responses.

In another sign of the tense atmosphere, a Palestinian assailant stabbed an Arab citizen of Israel in the neck in central Israel, apparently mistaking him for a Jew, police said. The assailant was detained.

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide bomber rammed his car packed with explosives into a bus carrying government employees in the Afghan capital early on Monday, killing 24 people and wounding 42 others, Kabul’s chief police spokesman said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault.

The attack took place in a western Kabul neighborhood where several prominent politicians reside and at rush hour, as residents were heading to work and students were on their way to a nearby private high school, said Basir Mujahed, the spokesman.

“The bomber attacked at one of the busiest times of the day,” the spokesman said. “There were traffic jams with people going to work and to the university and schools. Many of the shops had just opened.”

Several residents of Kabul who were lightly wounded in the explosion criticized the lapse in security measures they say enabled the bombing.

Amir Helam, whose friend died in the explosion, told Afghanistan’s Tolo TV that “every day people are dying. If you cannot bring peace then please leave and bring other people.”

The bus was completely destroyed, along with three other cars and several shops in the area, said Mujahed, adding children were among the wounded.

Noorullah, who uses just one name, was in his dormitory at a nearby university when the explosion occurred. He says he “saw so many injured people and cars burning.” Noorullah received minor injuries from flying glass.

Kabul has been battered by explosions claimed by the Taliban and by the Islamic State group’s affiliate in Afghanistan. On May 31, the Afghan capital saw its worst suicide attack since the Taliban’s collapse in 2001 — an attack that killed 150 people and wounded scores.

In a statement the Interior Ministry called Monday’s attack “a criminal act against humanity.”

The police spokesman said the minibus was carrying employees of the mines and petroleum ministry.

The Taliban, in a statement to the media, said they were behind the bombing and that the attack was carried out by an insurgent only identified as Ahmad.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, said the target of the bombing was the intelligence services and their employees. He claimed the bus was filled with employees of the intelligence services and that Taliban insurgents spent the last two months shadowing the intelligence services employees before carrying out the attack. He also claimed 37 people were killed, but the Taliban often exaggerate their battlefield gains and death tolls.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the bombing.

“Once again, these terrorist are attacking civilians and targeting government staff,” Ghani said in a statement.

Pakistan issued a statement condemning the attack and saying that “terrorism is a common enemy.”

Pakistan has been bitterly criticized by both the United States and the Afghan government for providing safe havens to Taliban insurgents, a charge it strongly denies. Both countries routinely accuse the other of harboring their enemy insurgents.

Monday’s attack was the second against employees of the mines and petroleum ministry. Last year, a bus carrying the ministry’s employees was also targeted in an attack that killed several people.

The western Kabul neighborhood where the attack occurred is home to many prominent political leaders, such as Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqiq.

Several attacks have occurred in the neighborhood, including the suicide attack last month that killed prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Ramazan Hussainzada, who was also a senior leader of the ethnic Hazara community.

Eyewitnesses to Monday’s attack said shattered glass from nearby buildings was scattered all over the street.

“The sound was very strong, the ground shook,” said Mohammed Nader, who owns a convenience store in the neighborhood.

The Taliban have stepped up their attacks against both Afghan forces and civilians since U.S. and other NATO-led foreign combat troops pulled out of the country at the end of 2014, leaving only an advisory and training contingent of international forces. In addition, American troops in Afghanistan have a counterterrorism role.

The insurgents have also steadily expanded their reach across the country, staging offensives targeting entire towns and expanding their footprint.

The Afghan military and security forces, with 195,000 soldiers and more than 150,000 policemen, have struggled to contain insurgency on their own.

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