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US ‘deeply concerned’ after Turkey bombs allies in Iraq and Syria

Washington (CNN)  US officials said they were “deeply concerned” after Turkey carried out a series of airstrikes Tuesday against US allies fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

A senior US defense official told CNN that the US was given about one hour’s advance notice of the strikes by the Turkish military. The official added that no US or coalition advisers were in the vicinity.
Turkish warplanes struck targets in northern Syria and the area of Sinjar in northern Iraq. The Turkish armed forces issued a statement saying it had “neutralized” 70 PKK “terrorist” fighters — 40 in northern Iraq and 30 others in northeastern Syria.
The Turkish government has been conducting a decades-long fight against the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group that has carried out terrorist attacks in Turkey.
But Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces, America’s primary Syrian ally in the fight against ISIS, and the Iraq-based Kurdish Peshmerga both said that they suffered casualties as well as a result of the airstrikes.
“We are very concerned, deeply concerned, that Turkey conducted airstrikes earlier today in northern Syria as well as northern Iraq without proper coordination either with the United States or the broader global coalition to defeat ISIS,” acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Tuesday.
“We have expressed those concerns to the government of Turkey directly,” Toner added.
Satellite images give rare glimpse into Syria

Satellite images give rare glimpse into Syria 02:09
The Pentagon also released a statement on its concerns about the strikes.
“These ‎airstrikes were not approved by the Counter-ISIS Coalition and led to the unfortunate loss of life of our partner forces in the fight against ISIS, including the Kurdish Peshmerga,” Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway said.
A statement issued by the Peshmerga, the military arm of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, said that five of its fighters were killed in the air raid and another nine wounded. The KRG blamed the nearby presence of PKK fighters for the casualties. The government of Iraq also protested the unilateral airstrikes by Turkey.
“Given the extraordinarily complex battle space in these areas, it is vital that Turkey and all partners in the defeat-ISIS effort coordinate their actions closely as we work together to maintain maximum pressure on ISIS and ensure the safety of all Coalition personnel in theater,” Rankine-Galloway said.
Turkey has long been opposed to the PKK, considered a terrorist organization by both Turkey and the US.
Erdogan denies dictator charges

Erdogan denies dictator charges 01:42
Ankara sees the PKK and the Kurdish forces in the Syrian Democratic Forces — known as the YPG — as closely linked, while the US views them as distinct organizations. The US sees the SDF as the most effective force fighting ISIS in Syria supporting its push on the city of Raqqa, ISIS’ self-declared capital.
“We recognize the threat the PKK poses to Turkey, but Turkey cannot pursue that fight at the expense of our common fight against terrorists that threaten us all,” Rankine-Galloway said.
While Turkey has struck PKK targets in Iraq in the past, Turkey’s latest military action comes days after President Donald Trump called President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to congratulate him after he prevailed in a closely contested referendum that granted his presidency additional powers. Trump’s congratulatory call stood out among Western leaders, many of whom struck a less laudatory tone over the controversial vote.
In the wake of his referendum victory, some US officials had hoped that Erdogan would be more flexible in cooperating with — or at least tolerating — US efforts aimed at backing the SDF offensive on Raqqa.
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US begins setting up missile defense in S. Korea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — In a defiant bit of timing, South Korea announced Wednesday that key parts of a contentious US missile defense system had been installed a day after rival North Korea showed off its military power.

The South’s trumpeting of progress on setting up the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, comes as high-powered US military assets converge on the Korean Peninsula and as a combative North Korea signals possible nuclear and missile testing.

North Korea conducted live-fire artillery drills on Tuesday, the 85th anniversary of the founding of its million-person strong Korean People’s Army. On the same day, a US guided-missile submarine docked in South Korea, and the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier is headed toward the peninsula for a joint exercise with South Korea.

The moves to set up THAAD within this year have angered not only North Korea, but also China, the country that the Trump administration hopes to work with to rid the North of nuclear weapons. China, which has grown increasingly frustrated with its ally Pyongyang, and Russia see the system’s powerful radars as a security threat.

South Korea said in a statement Wednesday that unspecified parts of THAAD were installed. The statement said that Seoul and Washington have been pushing to get THAAD quickly working to cope with North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile threats. According to the Yonhap news agency, the parts include two or three launchers, intercept missiles and at least one radar.

In this photo provided by the South Korean Defense Ministry, a South Korean navy sailor watches the destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer during joint exercises between the United States and South Korea in South Korea's West Sea Tuesday, April 25, 2017. (South Korean Defense Ministry via AP)

About 8,000 police officers were mobilized and the main road leading up to the site in the southeast was blocked earlier Wednesday, Yonhap reported. About 200 residents and protesters rallied in front of a local community center, some hurling plastic water bottles.

On Tuesday, North Korea conducted live-fire drills near the east coast city of Wonsan that involved 300 to 400 artillery pieces, Yonhap reported. An official from Seoul’s Defense Ministry couldn’t confirm those specific details.

North Korea’s official media said early Wednesday that leader Kim Jong Un personally observed the exercises. The drills reportedly included submarine torpedo attacks on mock enemy warships “while fighters and bombers made zero feet flight above the sea to drop bombs on the targets,” the Korean Central News Agency said.

US President Donald Trump has sent more US military assets to the region in a show of force while leaning on China to exert economic pressure on its wayward ally. Chinese President Xi Jinping, who spoke to Trump on Monday, is urging restraint from both Pyongyang and Washington.

In Washington, top Trump administration officials are due to brief the entire US Senate on Wednesday. A rapid tempo of North Korean weapons testing in the past year has pushed Kim Jong Un’s authoritarian nation closer to developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the US mainland.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham voiced confidence that Trump won’t allow North Korea to reach that point. Graham, a defense hawk who dined with Trump on Monday night, said the North should not underestimate the president’s resolve.

In this April 23, 2017 photo released by the US Navy, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson transits the Philippine Sea while conducting a bilateral exercise with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Z.A. Landers/US Navy via AP)

The USS Michigan, a nuclear-powered submarine, arrived Tuesday at the South Korean port of Busan for what was described as a routine visit to rest crew and load supplies. The US 7th Fleet said two American destroyers were conducting simultaneous maritime exercises with naval ships from South Korea and Japan.

North Korea routinely accuses the United States of readying for an invasion, and threatens pre-emptive strikes to stop it. An unnamed North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said the US administration’s policy to maximize pressure on North Korea was “little short of lighting the fuse of total war,” the state news agency reported Tuesday.

The streets of Pyongyang, however, were quiet for Tuesday’s anniversary, which was overshadowed by April 15 celebrations for the birthday of the nation’s late founder Kim Il Sung, and were marked by a missile test the following day.

The Trump administration is also upping the ante diplomatically.

On Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will chair a special meeting of the UN Security Council.

Tillerson will be “very vocal” about nations enforcing sanctions on North Korea, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. Trump said Monday the council must be prepared to impose stronger sanctions.

Anti-Semitic incidents surge 86% in US in 2017 – ADL

WASHINGTON — Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States saw a massive spike of 86 percent in the first quarter of 2017, according to new data compiled by the Anti-Defamation League.

The jump in incidents comes after a 34% increase in 2016 from the previous year.

“There’s been a significant, sustained increase in anti-Semitic activity since the start of 2016 and what’s most concerning is the fact that the numbers have accelerated over the past five months,” the group’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.

The Jewish civil rights group’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents found 541 reported anti-Semitic incidents in the first four months of the current year, including 380 episodes of harassment, 161 bomb threats to Jewish institutions and 155 cases of anti-Jewish vandalism.

Last month, an 18-year-old Israeli hacker from Ashkelon was arrested on suspicion of carrying out many of the bomb threats, some of them in exchange for money.

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The incidents took place throughout the country, with the majority concentrated in areas with large Jewish populations, including California (211 incidents), New York (199), New Jersey (157), Florida (137) and Massachusetts (125).

“Clearly, we have work to do and need to bring more urgency to the fight,” Greenblatt added. “At ADL, we will use every resource available to put a stop to anti-Semitism. But we also need more leaders to speak out against this cancer of hate and more action at all levels to counter anti-Semitism.”

For the last several months, Jewish groups have expressed concern about the growing trend of anti-Semitic vandalism and harassment across the country.

Since January, recurrent bomb threats have hit Jewish community centers, Jewish day schools and other institutions nationwide, causing the evacuation of dozens of centers and prompting some parents to remove their children from JCC programs.

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There have also been repeated incidents of swastikas being drawn on schools and other buildings, and hundreds of Jewish tombstones that have been vandalized in the US.

Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (Courtesy of ADL/via JTA)

The ADL cited the 2016 campaign season — and particularly the candidacy of US President Donald Trump — as a catalyst for anti-Semitic activities and said there were 34 specific incidents associated with the election.

“The 2016 presidential election and the heightened political atmosphere played a role in the increase,” the organization said in a press release. “For example, in Denver, graffiti posted in May 2016 said ‘Kill the Jews, Vote Trump.’ In November, a St. Petersburg, Florida man was accosted by someone who told him, ‘Trump is going to finish what Hitler started.’”

Over the course of the campaign, Trump was strongly criticized for initially failing to disavow David Duke, the former KKK leader, who endorsed his candidacy enthusiastically. He also drew the support of the alt-right movement, an amorphous designation that encompasses a broad swath of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and far-right ideologues.

Since the waves of bomb threats to Jewish centers started in January, some Jewish leaders have expressed frustration at the administration’s handling of the matter — including a seeming reluctance on Trump’s part with forcefully condemning or even addressing these occurrences.

In February, Trump opened his maiden speech to a joint session of Congress denouncing anti-Semitic attacks, but the remarks came hours after he reportedly told a group of state attorneys general visiting the White House that he suspected the bomb threat calls may have been planted out of political motives.

US President Donald J. Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, USA, 28 February 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / JIM LO SCALZO)

On Sunday, on the eve of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah), Trump delivered an explicit denunciation of anti-Semitism in a speech to the World Jewish Congress.

“On Yom Hashoah, we look back at the darkest chapter of human history,” he said. “We mourn, we remember, we pray, and we pledge: Never again. I say it, never again.”

“The mind cannot fathom the pain, the horror, and the loss,” he added. “Six million Jews, two-thirds of the Jews in Europe, murdered by the Nazi genocide. They were murdered by an evil that words cannot describe, and that the human heart cannot bear.”

Trump’s remarks were something of a prelude for a speech he will give Tuesday at an annual Holocaust remembrance ceremony in the United States Capitol Rotunda.

US sanctions Syrian officials over sarin attack

WASHINGTON — The US government imposed “sweeping sanctions” on Syrian officials in response to what the US says was a sarin gas attack on civilians earlier this month, the Treasury Department announced Monday.

The Treasury ordered a freeze on all assets in the United States belonging to 271 employees of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), and blocked any American person or business from dealing with them.

The SSRC was responsible for producing the chemical weapons Washington believes were used in the attack and the means to deliver them, the statement said.

A suspected chemical attack left 87 dead, including many children, in rebel-held territory in Idlib province on April 4, with the West accusing Syrian President Bashar Assad of being responsible.

A Syrian man collects samples from the site of a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, on April 5, 2017. (AFP/Omar Haj Kadour)

“These sweeping sanctions target the scientific support center for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s horrific chemical weapons attack on innocent civilian men, women, and children,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

“The United States is sending a strong message with this action that we will hold the entire Assad regime accountable for these blatant human rights violations in order to deter the spread of these types of barbaric chemical weapons.”

Treasury already had imposed sanctions against 18 Syrian officials in January, and Mnuchin said the administration “will relentlessly pursue and shut down the financial networks of all individuals involved with the production of chemical weapons used to commit these atrocities.”

The United States also fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield on April 7 in response to the suspected chemical weapons attack.

Trump says it’s ‘possible’ US will quit Iran deal

 

In comments published Sunday, US President Donald Trump said it was “possible” that the United States would not remain in the Iran nuclear deal.

“I believe they have broken the spirit of the agreement,” Trump told The Associated Press. “There is a spirit to agreements, and they have broken it.”

Asked by the AP whether that meant the United States would stick with the 2015 deal, which swapped sanctions relief for a rollback in Iran’s nuclear program, Trump said, “It’s possible that we won’t.”

Trump’s administration in recent weeks has delivered mixed messages about the agreement, which he reviled during his campaign as the “worst” he had ever encountered but never fully pledged to kill.

Trump had said Thursday that Iran was failing to fulfill the “spirit” of its nuclear deal with world powers.

As he often had during the president campaign, Trump ripped into the deal struck by Iran, the US and other world powers in 2015 and said “it shouldn’t have been signed.” Yet he pointedly stopped short of telegraphing whether or not the US would stay in.

“They are not living up to the spirit of the agreement, I can tell you that,” Trump said of the Iranians, though he did not mention any specific violations. Earlier last week, the administration certified to Congress than Iran was complying — at least technically — with the terms of the deal, clearing the way for Iran to continue enjoying sanctions relief in the near term.

Critics of the deal say the sanctions relief allows Iran to spend toward backing terrorism and promoting instability in the region. Trump also is unhappy that Iran continues to test ballistic missiles, which is barred by UN Security Council resolutions but is not under the terms of the nuclear pact.

Trump and his top officials have been walking a narrow line as they seek to show an aggressive stance. While disparaging the nuclear deal and accusing Iran of fomenting violence and terrorism throughout the Middle East, Trump has avoided committing to abandoning the agreement, a move that would be staunchly opposed by US businesses and European allies.

Under the deal, brokered during the Obama administration, Iran agreed to roll back key aspects of its nuclear program in exchange for relief from certain economic sanctions. Critics have said it’s unfathomable that the US would grant sanctions relief to Tehran even as it continues testing ballistic missiles, violating human rights and supporting extremist groups elsewhere in the Middle East.

By design, the nuclear deal does not address those Western grievances, meaning Tehran can be in compliance even as it violates UN resolutions and remains a US-designated state sponsor of terrorism. The US has continued to punish Tehran for those activities with non-nuclear sanctions that also fall outside the purview of the deal.

Trump hasn’t given a timeline for when his administration’s review of Iran policy — including whether to stick with the deal — will be complete. But the US must decide next month whether to renew a waiver so that Iran can continue receiving sanctions relief.

On Sunday Trump delivered a speech to the World Jewish Congress, telling delegates gathered for the organization’s plenary assembly in New York that anti-Semitism and prejudice should be fought wherever it is found and that threats by a “regime that talks openly of Israel’s destruction” should never be ignored.

“We must defeat terrorism, and we must not ignore the threats of a regime that talks openly of Israel’s destruction. We cannot let that ever even be thought of,” he said in reference to the Iranian regime, without naming it.

Israel, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has long-held that Iran and its nuclear program poses a threat to its existence. In a speech earlier this year on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Netanyahu said that Iran poses the “greatest danger” to Israel and predicted that the world’s silence in the face of the Islamic Republic’s threats to annihilate the Jewish state will end with Trump in office.

Israel said to refuse to extradite teen JCC bomb hoaxer to US

Israel has reportedly refused a US request to extradite an Israeli-American teenager suspected of making hundreds of bomb threat calls to American Jewish institutions over the last several months, a report said Sunday.

According to Channel 2, Israel intends to hand down a severe indictment of its own on Monday against the hacker from Ashkelon, and therefore denied the US Department of Justice request to extradite the teen

The 18-year-old is expected to be charged with crimes involving extortion with menaces, causing panic and money laundering.

On Friday, he was charged in the US with 28 counts of making threatening calls and conveying false information to police, according to the indictment filed in federal court in Orlando. Separately, he was charged with three more counts of making threatening calls, conveying false information and cyberstalking in an indictment filed in federal court in Athens, Georgia.

Investigators from both countries have been questioning the youth since his arrest last month, and new details of his alleged crimes are continuing to emerge.

The youth, whose name is under a gag order in Israel, also charged for his phone threat services on occasion, specifying incidents in which he issued bomb threats to US educational institutions, forcing their evacuation, on behalf of students who wanted exams postponed. He was paid in Bitcoins for these threats; almost 2 million shekels (more than half a million dollars) worth of Bitcoins was found in his internet bank account.

Israeli prosecutors are on Monday planning to charge the 18-year-old with crimes involving extortion with menaces, causing panic and money laundering.

People evacuated because of a bomb threat return to the David Posnack Jewish Community Center and David Posnack Jewish Day School on Monday, Feb. 27, 2017, in Davie, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

On Friday, he was charged in the US with 28 counts of making threatening calls and conveying false information to police, according to the indictment filed in federal court in Orlando. Separately, he was charged with three more counts of making threatening calls, conveying false information and cyberstalking in an indictment filed in federal court in Athens, Georgia.

If tried and convicted in the US, he would face a lengthy jail term, and US prosecutors are set to seek his extradition, Channel 2 reported. However, it is not clear that Israel’s state prosecutors, proceeding with their own case against him, will readily agree, the TV report noted.

It added that the youth has expressed no sorrow or regret for his actions.

His lawyer has said that he has a brain tumor and suffers from autism. His parents have also argued that he is unfit to stand trial, though they have apologized for his alleged actions. On Thursday an Israeli court extended his remand until April 24.

The teen living in Israel left scores of messages graphically describing children’s deaths in calls to Jewish community centers and schools across the United States, using an online calling service to disguise his voice as a woman and hide his identity, according to the federal indictment filed in Florida.

The calls to the Jewish community centers and schools stoked fears of rising anti-Semitism and led to campus evacuations.

The father of an American-Israeli Jewish teenager, accused of making dozens of anti-Semitic bomb threats in the United States and elsewhere, sits in court in Rishon Lezion on March 23, 2017. (AFP/JACK GUEZ)

The Florida indictment said that he made 245 threatening calls, most of them to Jewish community centers and schools, from January to March. He recorded each of the calls himself and kept them in organized files at his home in Ashkelon, along with news articles describing the police responses to the threats, the indictment said.

A large antenna at his apartment building allowed him to make long-distance, outdoor wireless connections.

The Florida indictment said recordings of the calls stripped of the software-enabled disguise revealed a speech impediment in the caller’s voice that matched his.

The Georgia indictment connects him to several incidents of “swatting” in which authorities are called to respond to an emergency that ends up being fake. The indictment alleges that in January the University of Georgia Police Department received a phone call about a home invasion that ended up being untrue.

The JCC Association of North America said in a statement that it welcomed the charges and that it was “enormously proud of the extraordinary commitment to safety and security” at the community centers.

“Today’s charges into these violent threats to Jewish Community Centers and others represent this Department’s commitment to fighting all forms of violent crime,” US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Friday. “These threats of violence instilled terror in Jewish and other communities across this country and our investigation into these acts as possible hate crimes continues.”

Shira Nir, a lawyer of an American-Israeli teenager suspected of calling in fake bomb threats to Jewish community centers across the world, shows the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court what she says is an image of a cancerous growth in her client's brain, on March 30, 2017. (Flash90)

FBI Director James Comey added: “This kind of behavior is not a prank, and it isn’t harmless. It’s a federal crime. It scares innocent people, disrupts entire communities, and expends limited law enforcement resources. The FBI thanks our partners for working with us here at home and around the world.”

The suspect, said Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth E. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, “allegedly took extraordinary steps to conceal his identity and location through several technological means, including voice alteration, use of proxy IP addresses, virtual currencies and caller ID spoofing.”

A wave of bomb threats to American Jewish institutions since the start of the year helped spread fear amid an apparent increase in hate crimes and anti-Semitic acts in the United States. Some said that the rise of Donald Trump as US president encouraged the extreme right and emboldened hate groups.

The arrest of the Jewish teenager over dozens of the threats complicated the debate, however.

He is also alleged to have made threatening phone calls over the past two to three years targeting schools and other public institutions in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In addition, Israeli police say he is suspected of a bomb threat to Delta Airlines in February 2015 that led to an emergency landing.

During a remand hearing on Thursday in Rishon Lezion, the teenager’s parents asked the court to replace their son’s attorney with a public defender, but the defendant insisted that his current lawyer, Shira Nir, remain on the case, Channel 10 reported. The court ruled that Nir should remain the suspect’s counsel.

“After I saw documents related to the suspect’s past, I decided to ask his parents to bring a private psychiatrist to the prison, in order to help clarify that he is not fit for detention,” Nir told Channel 10. She said the suspect’s father refused to pay for a private psychiatrist and subsequently asked the court to replace her with a public defender.

RUSSIA COMPLAINS TO US OVER EXCLUSION FROM SYRIA CHEMICAL PROBE

http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Russia-complains-to-US-over-exclusion-from-Syria-chemical-probe-488626

 

MOSCOW – Russia has told the United States it regrets Washington’s opposition to letting its inspectors take part in an investigation into a chemical weapons attack in Syria earlier this month, the foreign ministry said on Friday.

It said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke by phone to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the two sides agreed to consider one more time an “objective investigation into the incident” under the aegis of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

 

The US State Department said that during the call Tillerson reiterated to Lavrov his support for the OPCW’s existing investigative mechanism. They also discussed a range of issues, including those covered during Tillerson’s April 11-12 visit to Moscow, the department said in a statement.

The United States accused the Syrian army of carrying out the April 4 attack in which scores of people died from poison gas, and it responded by launching cruise missiles against a Syrian air base.

Russia has defended its ally Damascus and blamed the incident on rebels fighting the government of President Bashar Assad.

The episode added to a long list of disputes between the two countries and has dashed Russian hopes that ties might improve with Donald Trump in the White House. Trump said last week that relations with Moscow “may be at an all-time low.”

Referring to another irritant in the relationship, the Russian ministry said Lavrov called on Tillerson to hand back “Russian diplomatic property in the USA unlawfully confiscated by the Barack Obama administration.”

Former President Obama expelled 35 suspected Russian spies in December and ordered the Russians to depart two countryside vacation retreats outside Washington and New York that he said were linked to espionage.

The ministry said the parties had agreed to launch a working group soon “to seek ways to get rid of irritants in bilateral relations.”

US files charges against teen accused of JCC bomb threats

The US Department of Justice said on Friday it had filed charges against an Israeli-American teenager accused of making over 200 bomb threats against mainly Jewish institutions in the United States.

The teen, whose identity remains under gag order in Israel, was arrested last month in the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon after a joint investigation by Israeli and US authorities, including the FBI.

On Thursday an Israeli court extended his remand until April 24.

The 18-year-old living in Israel left scores of messages graphically describing children’s deaths in calls to Jewish community centers and schools across the United States, using an online calling service to disguise his voice as a woman and hide his identity, according to the federal indictment filed Friday in Florida.

He was charged with 28 counts of making threatening calls and conveying false information to police, according to the indictment filed in federal court in Orlando.

Separately, he was charged with three more counts of making threatening calls, conveying false information and cyberstalking in an indictment filed in federal court in Athens, Georgia.

The calls to the Jewish community centers and schools stoked fears of rising anti-Semitism and led to campus evacuations.

Online federal court records in Florida showed no attorney listed for the suspect.

The Florida indictment said that he made 245 threatening calls, most of them to Jewish community centers and schools, from January to March, using an online calling service that disguised his voice and allowed him to hide his identity. He recorded each of the calls himself and kept them in organized files at his home in Ashkelon, along with news articles describing the police responses to the threats, the indictment said.

He also paid for the online calls using the semi-anonymous currency Bitcoin. A large antenna at his apartment building allowed him to make long-distance, outdoor wireless connections, the indictment said.

The Florida indictment said recordings of the calls stripped of the software-enabled disguise revealed a speech impediment in the caller’s voice that matched his.

The Georgia indictment connects him to several incidents of “swatting” in which authorities are called to respond to an emergency that ends up being fake. The indictment alleges that in January the University of Georgia Police Department received a phone call about a home invasion that ended up being untrue.

The JCC Association of North America said in a statement that it welcomed the charges and that it was “enormously proud of the extraordinary commitment to safety and security” at the community centers.

“Today’s charges into these violent threats to Jewish Community Centers and others represent this Department’s commitment to fighting all forms of violent crime,” US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “These threats of violence instilled terror in Jewish and other communities across this country and our investigation into these acts as possible hate crimes continues.”

FBI Director James Comey added: “This kind of behavior is not a prank, and it isn’t harmless. It’s a federal crime. It scares innocent people, disrupts entire communities, and expends limited law enforcement resources. The FBI thanks our partners for working with us here at home and around the world.”

The suspect, said Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth E. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, “allegedly took extraordinary steps to conceal his identity and location through several technological means, including voice alteration, use of proxy IP addresses, virtual currencies and caller ID spoofing.”

A wave of bomb threats to American Jewish institutions since the start of the year helped spread fear amid an apparent increase in hate crimes and anti-Semitic acts in the United States. Some said that the rise of Donald Trump as US president encouraged the extreme right and emboldened hate groups.

Shira Nir, a lawyer of an American-Israeli teenager suspected of calling in fake bomb threats to Jewish community centers across the world, shows the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court what she says is an image of a cancerous growth in her client's brain, on March 30, 2017. (Flash90)

The arrest of a Jewish teenager over dozens of the threats complicated the debate, however.

He is also alleged to have made threatening phone calls over the past two to three years targeting schools and other public institutions in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In addition, Israeli police say he is suspected of a bomb threat to Delta Airlines in February 2015 that led to an emergency landing.

His lawyer has said that he has a brain tumor and suffers from autism. His parents have also argued that he is unfit to stand trial, though they have apologized for his alleged actions.

During Thursday’s remand hearing, the teenager’s parents asked the court to replace their son’s attorney with a public defender, but the defendant insisted that his current lawyer, Shira Nir, remain on the case, Channel 10 reported. The court ruled that Nir should remain the suspect’s counsel.

“After I saw documents related to the suspect’s past, I decided to ask his parents to bring a private psychiatrist to the prison, in order to help clarify that he is not fit for detention,” Nir told Channel 10. She said the suspect’s father refused to pay for a private psychiatrist and subsequently asked the court to replace her with a public defender.

U.S. Threatens Iran: Plans To “Review Policy” And Deal With Them Before New Administration Comes To Power

http://www.renegadetribune.com/u-s-threatens-iran-plans-review-policy-deal-new-administration-comes-power/
By Brandon Turbeville

After launching the disastrous missile strikes against Syrian military forces that resulted in the killing of Syrian soldiers, civilians, and children as well as sending ships toward North Korea in a flagrant act of aggression and dropping the largest known non-nuclear bomb on Afghanistan, the Trump administration is now taking aim at Iran.

Sounding much like it did after its bizarre and unprovoked “putting Iran on notice” speech made by former Trump administration official Michael Flynn, the United States is now “reviewing its policy” on Iran and warning the world of the dangers of a nuclear Iran.

Ironically, the United States is warning of an Iran terrorizing the world with its bombs, funding “militias” across the world, and expanding its influence in the region by force as well as unprovoked aggression against specific countries. If there were a field of psychology for geopolitics, these statements would be classified as a clear example of projection if ever there was one.

“Whether it be assassination attempts, support of weapons of mass destruction, deploying destabilizing militias, Iran spends its treasure and time disrupting peace,” Tillerson said. “An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea ‒ and take the world along with it.”

“Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and is responsible for intensifying multiple conflicts and undermining US interests in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, and continuing to support attacks against Israel.”

“An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea ‒ and take the world along with it,” he added.

Tillerson also stated that Iran supports the “brutal Assad regime” and that it supports the Houthis in Yemen, as well as accusing Iran of “undermining security in Iraq for years” by virtue of its support for Quds forces fighting there. Tillerson also accused Iran of maintaining “a long-standing hostility towards Israel, providing weapons, training and funding to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations.”

“A comprehensive Iran policy requires that we address all of the threats posed by Iran, and it is clear there are many,” he said.

Tillerson then turned to the Iran nuclear deal which has been the target of both the Trump administration and traditional Republicans since day one, claiming that it “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran ‒ it only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state. This deal represents the same failed approach of the past that brought us to the current imminent threat that we face from North Korea.”

Tillerson added that “The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran. The evidence is clear: Iran’s provocative actions threaten the United States, the region and the world.” In addition, he stated that the United States will “meet the challenges Iran poses with clarity and conviction” after the policy review is over.

Tillerson echoed statements uttered by Defense Secretary James Mattis earlier in the week, who accused Iran of trying destabilize the Middle East. “Everywhere you look if there is trouble in the region, you find Iran. We will have to overcome Iran’s efforts to destabilize yet another country and create another militia in their image of Lebanese Hezbollah but the bottom line is, we are on the right path for it.” Mattis’ statement came after meeting with senior Saudi officials in Riyadh.

The Path To Persia

The plan for a Western or a Western/Israeli attack on Iran, along with the theatre of alleged US-Israeli tensions leading up to a strike and outright war, has been in the works for some time. For instance, in 2009, the Brookings Institution, a major banking, corporate, and military-industrial firm, released a report entitled “Which Path To Persia? Options For A New American Strategy For Iran,” in which the authors mapped out a plan which leaves no doubt as to the ultimate desire from the Western financier, corporate, and governing classes.

The plan involves the description of a number of ways the Western oligarchy would be able to destroy Iran including outright military invasion and occupation. However, the report attempts to outline a number of methods that might possibly be implemented before direct military invasion would be necessary. The plan included attempting to foment destabilization inside Iran via the color revolution apparatus, violent unrest, proxy terrorism, and “limited airstrikes” conducted by the US, Israel or both.

Interestingly enough, the report states that any action taken against Iran must be done after the idea that Iran has rejected a fair and generous offer by the West has been disseminated throughout the general public. The report reads,

…any military operation against Iran will likely be very unpopular around the world and require the proper international context— both to ensure the logistical support the operation would require and to minimize the blowback from it. The best way to minimize international opprobrium and maximize support (however, grudging or covert) is to strike only when there is a widespread conviction that the Iranians were given but then rejected a superb offer—one so good that only a regime determined to acquire nuclear weapons and acquire them for the wrong reasons would turn it down. Under those circumstances, the United States (or Israel) could portray its operations as taken in sorrow, not anger, and at least some in the international community would conclude that the Iranians “brought it on themselves” by refusing a very good deal.

Ironically, it is admitted by the authors of the report that the Iranians are not governed by lunatics intent on nuking the world but by entirely rational players. Still, they move forward with a number of options for attacking Iran. It should thus be obvious to anyone reading this report that the US, NATO, and Israel are uninterested in peace with Iran and are entirely focused on war and Iranian destruction.

“The so-called “Iran deal,” introduced during the administration of US President Barack Obama, represents precisely this “superb offer,” with Flynn’s accusations serving as the “turn down” ahead of the “sorrowful” war and attempted regime change the US had always planned to target Tehran with,” writes Tony Cartalucci of Land Destroyer Report.

The report continues to discuss the citations that could be used for an attack on Iran, clearly stating its intentions to create a plan to goad a non-threatening nation into war. It states,

The truth is that these all would be challenging cases to make. For that reason, it would be far more preferable if the United States could cite an Iranian provocation as justification for the airstrikes before launching them. Clearly, the more outrageous, the more deadly, and the more unprovoked the Iranian action, the better off the United States would be. Of course, it would be very difficult for the United States to goad Iran into such a provocation without the rest of the world recognizing this game, which would then undermine it. (One method that would have some possibility of success would be to ratchet up covert regime change efforts in the hope that Tehran would retaliate overtly, or even semi-overtly, which could then be portrayed as an unprovoked act of Iranian aggression.)

The question of the Israeli role in the possible attack against Iran is also mentioned by Brookings. In fact, in the chapter entitled, “Allowing or Encouraging An Israeli Military Strike,” Brookings not only outlines a potential strategy but essentially admits that the US-Israeli tension being hyped in the Western media is nothing more than a farce. It says,

..the most salient advantage this option has over that of an American air campaign is the possibility that Israel alone would be blamed for the attack. If this proves true, then the United States might not have to deal with Iranian retaliation or the diplomatic backlash that would accompany an American military operation against Iran. It could allow Washington to have its cake (delay Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon) and eat it, too (avoid undermining many other U.S. regional diplomatic initiatives).

Why Iran?

There are a number of reasons why the United States and the NATO imperial army would like to see Iran destroyed over the coming years. Geopolitical reasons are, of course, front and center.

On one level, the Israeli connection stands as one obvious reason the United States has maintained an anti-Iran posture for nearly two decades. Iran not only stands as a regional opponent to the whims and aims of the Israeli settler state, but it also bankrolls and supports one of the greatest forces of opposition to Israel directly due to its close proximity and the militia’s military prowess. Indeed, Israel was humiliated by Hezbollah in front of the world in 2006. Thus, if Iran is destroyed, Hezbollah goes with it and two of Israel’s biggest and most effective opponents disappear from the game board.

The United States also sees Iran as an opponent due to Iran’s resistance to the Anglo-American insistence on global hegemony of its “Western” system of financial and corporate overseers in a plantation owned by a world oligarchy. Iran stands in opposition to the Western system because it refuses to engage in a system private central banking as well as corporate and private financier domination of its society and culture. Maintaining its own national bank has long been a source of irritation for Wall Street and City of London vampires eager to sink their fangs into the blood supply of every nation on earth. In addition, Iran has recently announced that it would be dropping the U.S. dollar for some other currency or basket of currencies beginning March 21, a sure sign that a Western war of aggression is most definitely on the horizon.

Iran also remains a close Russian ally and the last domino that needs to fall before the great Anglo-American army can march forward directly into Russia and break the largest country in the world into “manageable” parts.[1] Once Iran is destroyed, Russia will be largely isolated and left to face the NATO alliance which has been slowly surrounding Russia over the last two decades.

Conclusion

The Trump Administration’s false labeling of Iran as the biggest sponsor of terrorism, ignoring the fact that Iran is one of the most important players in the fight against ISIS and Sunni Islamic extremism in the Middle East as well as the fact that American ally Saudi Arabia is perhaps the biggest purveyor of terrorism in the world, tells everyone what we need to know going forward – the plan to destroy Iran is marching forward without a hitch in another example of seamless transition.

Of course, Iran is opposing America’s policies in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. It should. The United States’ policy is that of funding, directing, and manipulating terrorists for the purpose of destroying sovereign countries, backing a brutal racist Israeli regime that continually attacks its neighbors, and supporting an equally brutal Saudi dictatorship intentionally slaughtering the Yemeni people. If this is what Iran is opposing, the world owes it a debt of gratitude.


[1] Brzezinski, Zbigniew. The Grand Chessboard. Basic Books. 1st Edition. 1998.

This article originally appeared on Activist Post.

Image Credit: Cato.org

U.S. Sets Sights On North Korea’s Vast Opium Fields

U.S. eyes North Korea's vast opium fields

As the U.S. prepares for war with North Korea, politicians and the media have failed to tell the public about the vast opium fields in the country.

As Afghanistan’s drug trafficking business continues to soar following the illegal occupation by U.S. forces 16 year ago, the military industrial complex are now setting their sights on North Korea.

Thefreethoughtproject.com reports:

“In its early stage, the Kim Jong-un regime declared a war against drugs, getting rid of poppy fields,” Kang Cheol-hwan, president of the defector organization, North Korea Strategy Center, told Yonhap News Agency last month. “But now they are cultivating them again.”

North Korea’s opium poppies remained at least somewhat secreted from its citizens under the rule of Kim Jong-il.

In an August 2011 interview with NPR, Ma Young Ae — a defector and former North Korean spy who lives in Virginia — explained she “worked for Kim Jong Il’s internal police force. Her job was was to track down drug smugglers. That sounds like pretty normal law enforcement, except for one difference. She was supposed to stop small-time Korean drug dealers in order to protect the biggest drug dealer in the country: the North Korean government.

“Ma told us the North Korean government produced opium on a large scale. But it hid its poppy fields from most of the population. Ma only saw the fields because she was an insider.

“After harvesting the fields, the government would put its empty factories to use. The government would turn on its production lines at night and process opium, Ma says. Then they would pack the product in plastic cubes the size of dictionaries and smuggle it out of the country through China.”

Kim Jong-il’s son and successor instead chose to fight the war on drugs — until the Chinese Commerce Ministry suspended imports of coal from February through the end of the year, in response to one of Pyongyang’s contentious ballistic missiles tests.

Faced with the rapid loss of hard currency and an uphill battle to fund the regime’s activities — coal comprised an estimated 40 percent of North Korea’s exports to China — Kim Jong-un appears to have cozied to the wallet-stuffing possibilities the prized poppy provides.

Noting the war on drugs had already failed, Kang added, “The North is cultivating poppy fields again for drug smuggling as a way to secure funds to manage its regime.”

Funding an entire government’s operations from the cultivation and production of opium should be a piece of cake — should illegal markets fail, America has an insidious obsession with opioids.

Tens of thousands each year die of overdoses from heroin, opioids, and/or their synthetics in the United States, alone — in large part, courtesy of the pharmaceutical industry’s reckless devotion to painkillers.

Vox reported March 29 the opioid “epidemic has by and large been caused by the rise in opioid overdose deaths. First, opioid painkiller overdoses began to rise, as doctors began to fill out a record number of prescriptions for the drugs in an attempt to treat patients’ pain conditions. Then, people hooked on painkillers began to move over to heroin as they or their sources of drugs lost their prescriptions. And recently, more people have begun moving to fentanyl, an opioid that’s even more potent and cheaper than heroin. The result is a deadly epidemic that so far shows no signs of slowing down.”

And how could it slow down?

Opioids doled out like candy by doctors and hospitals to those suffering but unaware of the addiction pitfalls inherent in rising tolerance, short-term prescriptions, and — in particular — the availability of potent substances like heroin and fentanyl on the black market.

This isn’t by far purely an issue to be blamed on illegal trade in drugs. Media Roots’ Abby Martin elaborated on the perniciousness of the opioid crisis in 2014, stating,

“In today’s globalized world of rule-for-profit, one can’t discount the role that multinational corporations play in US foreign policy decisions either. Not only have oil companies and private military contractors made a killing off the occupation, big pharmaceutical companies, which collectively lobby over 250 million dollars annually to Congress, need opium latex to manufacture drugs for this pill happy nation. As far as the political elite funneling the tainted funds, the recent HSBC bank scandal exposed how trillions of dollars in black market sales are brazenly being laundered offshore.”

For the welcome relief opioid painkillers offer those who suffer severe discomfort, the medications’ highly-addictive nature leaves doctors reluctant to write strong prescriptions. However, if tolerance builds, and medical personnel refuse to increase dosage accordingly, those still facing unbearable pain often shop black markets — where the purity and safety of substances cannot be verified — to supplement their supplies.

It must be duly noted, America’s opioid epidemic mushroomed only after U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan.

“Within six months of the U.S. invasion,” wrote Matthieu Aikins for the December 4, 2014, Rolling Stone, “the warlords we backed were running the opium trade, and the spring of 2002 saw a bumper harvest of 3,400 tons.”

Just prior to boots and bombs hitting the ground, opium production in Afghanistan fell to an impressive low of 185 pounds — all-too ironically, thanks to Taliban efforts to eradicate the entire supply of opium poppies.

Mint Press News’ Mnar Muhawesh wrote last year, “The War in Afghanistan saw the country’s practically dead opium industry expanded dramatically. By 2014, Afghanistan was producing twice as much opium as it did in 2000. By 2015, Afghanistan was the source of 90 percent of the world’s opium poppy.”

Claiming terrorism as the impetus for invading Afghanistan would be at least as absurd as the Drug Enforcement Agency claiming the global War on Drugs has been a success. Taliban forces have returned in strength to the nation whose opium poppies are guarded by U.S. troops — who are putatively present to fight in the ongoing War on Terror.

After a moment deeply pondering the last point, it’s imperative to address current events — specifically, U.S. military vessels already present in the South and East China Seas, amid dangerously high tensions with North Korea.

North Korea — who announced weeks ago its debilitated economy would seek relief from, yes, the cultivation and production of opium poppies.

Perpetually bellicose Pyongyang is no stranger to hyperbole in military prowess — so much so, threats of direct nuclear strikes by North Korea against the United States are typically downplayed by Washington, if not dismissed with a snide grin.

Pyongyang’s testing of ballistic and other missiles has been deemed a threat to the national security of South Korea, where a U.S. missile defense system pointed North has further heightened hostilities on the peninsula and in the region.

Of one such missile launch Sunday, Defense Secretary James Mattis admonished,

“The leader of North Korea again recklessly tried to provoke something by launching a missile.”

Kim In Ryong, North Korea’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations, warned on Monday the U.S. has “created a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any minute” — adding, Pyongyang “is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S.”

Whether that war includes plans for the U.S. usurpation of North Korea’s literal cash crop of opium poppies will undoubtedly be determined soon.

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