Egypt Officials Say Resort Knife Attacker Tasked by IS

Security officials said on Sunday that the Egyptian man who stabbed to death three tourists and wounded three others earlier this month in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada was tasked by the Islamic State group to carry out an attack against foreigners.

The officials said that investigations revealed 29-year old Abdel-Rahman Shaaban had communicated with two IS leaders on social media after they recruited him online.

One of them gave Shaaban daily lessons for a month after which he got in touch with the other, who asked him carry out an attack against tourists in either the resort city of Sharm al-Sheikh or Hurghada, to prove his allegiance to the group, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Shaaban rode a bus from the Nile Delta province of Kafr el-Sheikh to Hurghada on July 14 and headed to a beach hotel where he killed two German women and wounded two Armenians, a Ukrainian and a Czech woman, using a knife that he bought earlier from a store, the officials added. Shaaban was arrested shortly after he was chased by hotel workers and security guards who handed him over to the police.

The Czech woman, who was hospitalized with back and leg injuries after the attack, died last week.

Shaaban is a resident of Kafr el-Sheikh where he attended the business school of the local branch of Al-Azhar University – the world’s foremost seat of learning of Sunni Islam and the target of mounting criticism in recent months over its alleged radical teachings and doctrinal rigidity.

The resort attack took place just hours after five policemen were killed in a shooting near some of Egypt’s most famous pyramids in the greater Cairo area. The Interior Ministry said last week that its forces killed four suspects and arrested two others who were behind the killing of the policemen.

Egypt’s government has been struggling to contain an insurgency by Islamic militants led by an Islamic State affiliate that is centered in the northern region of the Sinai peninsula, though attacks on the mainland have recently increased.

The extremist group has been mainly targeting security personnel and Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority.

Britain Strips More than 100 Islamic State Fighters of Citizenship

Their home countries don’t want them back. Hundreds of foreign fighters who enlisted with Islamic State to fight in Syria and Iraq are being stripped of their citizenship and blocked from returning by Western governments.

Returning fighters are seen as a grim threat, the deadly legacy of a murderous movement being defeated and rolled back on the battlefield. Western intelligence officials say they are already over-stretched trying to monitor tens of thousands of suspected extremists who never left their home countries.

British officials say they have stripped more than 100 British fighters and brides of their citizenship, preventing them re-entering the country legally, according to British news reports. All those who have lost British citizenship are dual nationals. Under international law, governments can’t revoke someone’s citizenship if it would render them stateless.

According to Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper, 152 IS recruits have been stripped of British citizenship since 2016, 30 since March.

Of the estimated 850 Britons who joined IS or al-Qaida-linked groups in Syria, 15 percent are thought to have been killed. A handful of returnees have been jailed, but officials say many cannot be prosecuted for lack of evidence. Some are thought to have become disillusioned with jihadism, but many are thought to pose a significant terror risk.

Britain isn’t alone in fearing the havoc returnees could wreak or the added burden they place on intelligence services already struggling to maintain surveillance on thousands of suspects who never left to fight. In June, following terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, British authorities admitted 23,000 radical Islamists had been considered a “person of interest” to the security services at any one time, more than six times the previous figures made public by the government.

Of those, 3,000 are considered serious threats, including about 400 people who have returned to Britain after fighting for IS in Syria and Iraq.

Other countries fearful

Since 2015, several Western governments have moved to amend their laws to make it easier to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals involved in terrorism. Even so, European governments have faced mounting criticism that they have little in the way of comprehensive plans ready for returnees, either in keeping tabs on them or requiring them to enter rehabilitation and de-radicalization programs.

There is fierce debate also over the effectiveness of de-radicalization programs on fighters who have not already become disillusioned.

Critics include Alex Carlile, a former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, who has complained about the British government’s inconsistency and has called for the reintroduction of tough “control orders” that were banned in 2012 over human right fears. The control orders allowed the authorities to restrict suspects’ movement and their use of phones and computers.

He said in a television interview last month it was a “grave mistake” to abolish the orders which “may have saved dozens of lives” between 2005 and 2011.

In February, the Australian government revoked the citizenship of Khaled Sharrouf, who slipped out of Australia in 2013 after serving a four-year jail term on terrorism-related charges.

He became internationally infamous after posting on the internet in August 2014 a photograph of his seven-year-old son holding the severed head of a Syrian soldier. In April a new video surfaced showing Sharrouf’s youngest son wearing a suicide vest being prompted by his father to issue threats to murder Australians.

At least 110 Australians are estimated to have joined terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria. Seventy are thought to be dead, three were captured in Lebanon and are in jail there. Australian officials are considering revoking their citizenship.

It has been rare for Western fighters to be captured. In an interview last week with VOA, Gen. Andrew Croft, who oversees the coalition air campaign against IS in Iraq, said foreign fighters are certainly among the IS forces.

“One of the dynamics you see is that foreign fighters can’t just blend in with civilians and go to an IDP camp. So the foreign fighters often move around in groups, and they will often fight to the death,” he said.

A move by then-president Francois Hollande to pass legislation to make it easier to revoke French citizenship of terrorist suspects holding dual nationality failed last year. Opinion polls suggested the legislation had public backing, but political critics and rights groups argued the measure would do little to prevent terror attacks and risked worsening race relations by stigmatizing sections of the population, notably Muslims of North African descent.

 

 

Gunman Kills 1, Injures 3 in German Nightclub; Terrorism Ruled Out

A gunman who killed one person and injured three others in a nightclub in southern Germany on Sunday was an Iraqi citizen who had lived in the country for a long time and was not an asylum seeker, police said, ruling out terrorism as a motive.

Konstanz police spokesman Fritz Bezikofer told the n-tv broadcaster that after an initial investigation into the events surrounding the shooting at the nightclub in Konstanz on the border with Switzerland investigators ruled out terrorism.

“The motives of the man who acted alone are unclear,” he said. “We are still investigating but the circumstances surrounding the events at the disco in the evening before the shooting are a bit clearer and this led us to rule out a terrorism background.”

The 34-year-old man was fatally wounded in a gunfight with police officers outside the music venue after they rushed to the scene shortly after the incident began around 0230 GMT. He died later in hospital. One police officer was also injured in the exchange of fire.

On Friday, a failed asylum seeker killed one person and injured six others in the northern city of Hamburg. Officials said he was an Islamist known to security forces and he was psychologically unstable.

 

At Least 20,000 Flee Concert as Stage Burns

A spectacular fire at a music festival in Spain has forced the evacuation of more than 20,000 concertgoers in Barcelona, the regional government says.

 

Images show towering flames consuming a large outdoor stage Saturday night at the Tomorrowland electronic music festival at Barcelona’s Parc de Can Zam.

 

Barcelona firefighters say there were no serious injuries during the concert evacuation. The event’s private security told authorities they treated 20 people for minor injuries or anxiety during the evacuation.

 

Firefighters are investigating the cause of the fire. The Tomorrowland website published a statement saying the “stage caught fire due to a technical malfunction.”

 

The festival in Barcelona was one of several offshoot events of a main Tomorrowland festival in Belgium. Organizers say the Barcelona event has been canceled following the fire.

Six Inspectors Die in Illegal Colombia Gold Mine Blast

Six security contractors working for Canadian-listed miner Continental Gold were killed after an explosion at an illegal gold mine in central Colombia, the company said Saturday.

The explosion took place Friday in the Buritica municipality of Antioquia province when the contractors surprised a group of illegal miners in a shaft they were inspecting, Continental said. One of the seven contractors survived.

Illegal mining is widespread in Colombia and accidents and civil unrest around mines are not uncommon.

“The contractors were performing routine underground inspections of a government-closed illegal mine,” Continental said in a statement on its website.

“Upon entering the underground mine, the contractors were accosted by illegal miners, followed by a subsequent explosion,” Continental said. “The company is looking to authorities to enforce the rule of law to prevent this kind of tragic event from ever happening again.”

The inspection of the illegal mine was mandated by the government.

The regional disaster authority earlier in the day released initial details of the incident but said the cause of the explosion was not yet clear. It did not provide details on the number or condition of the illegal miners.

The Continental statement did not elaborate on the cause of the explosion.

Maduro Says He Will Target Foes With New Assembly

President Nicolas Maduro pledged Saturday evening to go after his political foes with the virtually unlimited powers of a constituent assembly being elected Sunday, while Venezuela’s opposition made a last-ditch effort to flood streets across the country in defiance of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and police.

In an address on state-run television, Maduro made clear he wants the assembly to strip opposition legislators of their constitutional immunity from prosecution and jail at least one.

“This little Hitler has his cell guaranteed!” Maduro shouted, using his frequent nickname for Freddy Guevara, a hard-line opposition leader and one the highest-profile organizers of four months of protests against the government.

Opposition boycott

The opposition is boycotting Sunday’s vote, contending the election has been structured to ensure Maduro’s ruling socialist party continues to dominate. All 5,500 candidates for the 545 seats in the constituent assembly are government supporters.

The vote’s success will be measured by turnout, with the opposition urging Venezuelans to stay away and the government encouraging participation with tactics that include threats to state workers’ jobs and social benefits like subsidized food for the poor.

Maduro indicated he is eager to prosecute many more members of the opposition parties that control a handful of state governments along with the National Assembly, providing one of the few remaining checks on the power of the socialist party that has ruled this OPEC nation for nearly two decades.

“The right wing already has its prison cell waiting,” the president said. “All the criminals will go to prison for the crimes they’ve committed.”

He added that the constituent assembly’s first task in rewriting the constitution will be “a total transformation” of the office of Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, a former government loyalist who has become the highest-ranking official to publicly split from the president.

​Economic crisis

Once one of Latin America’s wealthiest and most stable nations, Venezuela has spiraled into a devastating socioeconomics crisis during Maduro’s four years in power, thanks to plunging oil prices and widespread corruption and mismanagement. Inflation and homicide rates are among the world’s highest and widespread shortages of food and medicine leave citizens dying of preventable illnesses and rooting through trash to feed themselves.

In April, Maduro’s supporters on the Supreme Court tried to strip the National Assembly of its powers, setting off protests and clashes between police and demonstrators that have left at least 113 dead and nearly 2,000 wounded. Although most of the dead have been protesters apparently shot by police and government-linked paramilitaries, Maduro’s government blames the opposition for the violence.

The government has arrested opposition mayors and party leaders but until now has refrained from going after higher-profile politicians whose posts grant them immunity from prosecution.

Washington has imposed successive rounds of sanctions on members of Maduro’s administration and Vice President Mike Pence on Friday promised “strong and swift economic actions” after Sunday’s vote. He didn’t say whether the U.S. would sanction Venezuelan oil imports, a measure with the potential to undermine Maduro but cause an even deeper humanitarian crisis here.

The opposition has organized a series of work stoppages as well as a July 16 protest vote that it said drew more than 7.5 million symbolic votes against the constitutional assembly. It called Saturday for roadblocks to start before dawn Sunday and a mass march on Caracas’ main highway.

Opinion polls say more than 70 percent of the country is opposed to Sunday’s vote. But as many as half of all Venezuelans support neither the government nor the opposition, a phenomenon evident in the glum paralysis that has gripped much of the country as protesters and police wage nightly battles.

Apple Accused of Bowing to Chinese Censors

Apple, Inc. has confirmed that it is removing some applications providing virtual personal networks, or VPNs, from its China App Store, to comply with new Chinese regulations — a move critics say is capitulating to internet censorship.

Apple confirmed the move in an email to National Public Radio on Saturday, after several VPN providers announced that their apps had been removed from the China App Store.

Software made outside China can sometimes be used to get around China’s domestic internet firewalls that block content that the government finds objectionable. Critics call China’s “great firewall” one of the world’s most advanced censorship systems.

VPN apps pulled

“Earlier this year,” Apple said, “China’s MIIT [Ministry of Industry and Information Technology] announced that all developers offering VPNs must obtain a license from the government. We have been required to remove some VPN apps in China that do not meet the new regulations.”

App maker Express VPN said in a blog post that its app was removed from the China Apple Store, and it noted that “preliminary research indicates that all major VPN apps for iOS [Apple operating systems] have been removed.”

The statement continued, “We’re disappointed in this development, as it represents the most drastic measure the Chinese government has taken to block the use of VPNs to date, and we are troubled to see Apple aiding China’s censorship efforts.”

Another company, Star VPN, also announced it had been contacted by Apple with the same notice.

China successful

Golden Frog, a company that makes security software, told the New York Times that its app also had been taken down from the China App Store.

“We gladly filed an amicus brief in support of Apple and their backdoor encryption battle with the FBI, so we are extremely disappointed that Apple has bowed to pressure from China to remove VPN apps without citing any Chinese law or regulation that makes VPN illegal,” said Sunday Yokubaitis, president of the company.

The Times reports that this is the first time China has successfully used its influence with a major foreign technology platform such as Apple, to flex its muscle with software makers.

China is Apple’s largest market outside the United States.

Seven Turkish Journalists Released From Prison

Seven Turkish journalists were freed Saturday after spending nine months in prison, but they expressed sorrow that four of their colleagues were still being detained on charges of having aided terror groups.

The staff members from Cumhuriyet, a Turkish opposition newspaper, were released from Silivri jail on the outskirts of Istanbul. They must still stand trial, with the next hearing scheduled for September 11. If convicted, they face terms of up to 43 years in prison.

The journalists are charged with using their news coverage to support three groups Turkey considers terrorist organizations: the Kurkistan Workers’ Party, or PKK; the leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party; and the followers of a U.S.-based spiritual leader, Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of backing last year’s coup attempt.

“To be honest, I thought I would be very happy the moment I was released,” said cartoonist Musa Kart in a statement. “But I cannot say that I am very happy today. Unfortunately, four of our friends are still incarcerated in Silivri Prison. I do not think that the image of journalists in prison is one that becomes this country.”

An Istanbul court ruled Friday that the seven journalists should be freed, but it kept the most prominent of the Cumhuriyet journalists behind bars: commentator Kadri Gursel, investigative journalist Ahmet Sik, editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu and chief executive Akin Atalay.

Sik, who was jailed in 2011-12 over a book he’d authored, was jailed again in December over the content of his Twitter feed. Prosecutors said they planned to charge him additionally for a statement in court Wednesday that was fiercely critical of Turkey’s ruling party.

Indictment called ‘trash’

In what was expected to be a defense statement, Sik lashed out with a tirade about press freedom. He called the indictment against him and his colleagues “trash” and referred to the judiciary as a “lynch mob.” He said the purpose of the charges against him and his colleagues was to scare and silence people who would speak out against the government.

Following last year’s coup attempt, Turkey instituted a crackdown on journalists that resulted in the closure of more than 100 media outlets.

The independent watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists, which tracks press freedom issues, says Turkey jails more journalists than any other country, due to broadly worded laws on supporting terrorism and “insulting Turkishness.” As of December 2016, at least 81 journalists were being held in Turkish jails, all of them facing charges that they were working against the state, CPJ said.

Venezuelan Polls Open for Controversial Vote

Polls have opened in Venezuela for a controversial vote called by President Nicolas Maduro.

Voters are ballots for a “Constituent Assembly” whose 545 members will be charged with rewriting the country’s constitution.

Critics assert that only Maduro supporters are candidates, and that they could revise the constitution to keep him in office indefinitely.

The political opposition is urging a boycott of the vote, which leaves only supporters of the president to cast ballots. The opposition says the vote is fraudulent and has called for demonstrations.

Protests early in the week gave way to a tense calm Friday and Saturday after Maduro banned public demonstrations through next Tuesday. Maduro said anyone defying the ban risks up to 10 years in prison.

But opposition leaders are urging their supporters to defy the order Sunday and make their voices heard in the streets.

“This is for elections, for the freeing of political prisoners, for change,” opposition Congressman Freddy Guevara told reporters Saturday. He warned that election day would not be the last of the protests. “From Monday,” he said, “this crisis will deepen.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence released a statement Friday after speaking by phone with a prominent Venezuelan dissident, Leopoldo Lopez, who recently has been moved from prison to house arrest. Pence praised Lopez’s courage and called for the “unconditional release of all political prisoners in Venezuela, free and fair elections, restoration of the National Assembly, and respect for human rights in Venezuela.”

The United Nations has said it is deeply concerned about the situation in Venezuela.

Elisabeth Throssell, a spokesperson for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters Friday in Geneva, “We hope that the poll scheduled for Sunday, if it goes ahead, will proceed peacefully and in full respect of human rights.”

On Thursday, Michael Fitzpatrick, State Department deputy assistant secretary for the Western hemisphere, told VOA that the United States holds out hope for a “peaceful and democratic” resolution to the Venezuelan crisis. But he said the U.S. has not ruled out the option of economic sanctions directly against Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “… the government of Nicolas Maduro is the greatest danger to Venezuelan democracy.”

Runaway inflation has caused shortages of food, medicine, and staple products, resulting in long lines at grocery stores and hunger at home.

One Caracas resident told the French news agency AFP that he has bought enough food supplies to last several days, in case things grow more difficult.

“The U.S. has pulled out its people, my boss has disappeared and we don’t know when he’ll be back. Best to be prepared,” said the 34-year-old resident, who said his name was Maximiliano.

As Caracas readies itself for more upheaval, at least one activist was to face authorities Saturday for defying the protest ban.

Wuilly Arteaga, a 23-year-old musician, has gained fame for playing his violin at anti-government protests. His lawyer told reporters that Arteaga was not breaking any laws when he was arrested Thursday playing his violin on the streets of Caracas.

VOA’s Lina Correa contributed to this report.