35 killed, 200 injured in Brussels airport, metro station blasts

Brussels, March 22

A series of explosions ripped through Brussels airport and a metro train on Tuesday, killing around 35 persons and injuring more than 200 in the latest attacks claimed by Islamic State militant group to rock Europe.

Security was tightened across the jittery continent and transport links paralysed after the bombings that Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel branded “blind, violent and cowardly”.

“This is a day of tragedy, a black day,” Michel said on national television.

Foreign Minister Didier Reynders warned that authorities fear suspects could still be at large in the city that is home to both NATO and the European Union.

Meanwhile, Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Brussels attack, a news agency affiliated with the group said. “Islamic State fighters carried out a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices on Tuesday, targeting an airport and a central metro station in the center of the Belgian capital Brussels,” AMAQ agency said.

The bloodshed came just four days after the dramatic arrest in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam—the prime suspect in the Paris terror attacks claimed by the Islamic State group—after four months on the run.

Belgian authorities had been on alert after Abdeslam, Europe’s most wanted man, told investigators he had been planning an attack on Brussels.

Two blasts shattered the main hall of Zaventem Airport at around 8:00 am (1330 IST), with prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw saying there was probably at least one suicide bomber.

A third hit a train at Maalbeek metro station in the heart of the city’s EU quarter, just as commuters were making their way to work in rush hour.

Pierre Meys, spokesman for the Brussels fire brigade, told AFP at least 14 persons had been killed at the airport, while Brussels mayor Yvan Mayeur said “around 20” died in the underground blast. More than 200 persons have been wounded, several critically.

Witnesses said victims lay in pools of blood at the airport, their limbs blown off. There were chaotic scenes as passengers fled in panic, with a thick plume of smoke rising from the main terminal building.

“A man shouted a few words in Arabic and then I heard a huge blast,” airport baggage security officer Alphonse Lyoura told AFP, his hands bloodied.

“A lot of people lost limbs. One man had lost both legs and there was a policeman with a totally mangled leg.” An Army team later blew up a suspect package at the shuttered airport, with media reporting the police had found an unexploded suicide vest.

At Maalbeek station, paramedics tended to commuters with bloodied faces as the streets filled with the wailing of sirens.

At least two Polish nationals and a Briton were confirmed among the injured in a city that is the EU’s symbolic capital.

The bombings triggered a transport shutdown, with flights halted and metro, tram and bus services all suspended.

Brussels airport said it had cancelled all flights until at least 6 am (0500 GMT) on Wednesday and the complex had been evacuated and trains to the airport had been stopped. Passengers were taken to coaches from the terminal that would remove them to a secure area.

All three main long-distance rail stations in Brussels were closed and train services on the cross-channel tunnel from London to Brussels were suspended.

Airports across Europe swiftly announced they were boosting security, including in London, Paris, and Frankfurt.

Across the Atlantic, New York and Washington ordered extra counter-terror officers to crowded areas and train stations.

Leaders across Europe reacted with shock and solidarity, urging closer counter-terror cooperation on a continent that has been on high alert for months.

“The whole of Europe has been hit,” said French President Francois Hollande, whose country is still reeling from jihadist attacks in Paris that killed 130 persons in November.

British Prime Minister David Cameron warned of the “very real” terrorist threat faced by countries across Europe, declaring: “We will never left these terrorists win.” Russia and Turkey—also targets of deadly attacks in the last eight months—said the blasts highlighted the need to fight terrorism of every hue and across all borders.

Brussels residents were told to stay inside. Security was also beefed up at Belgium’s nuclear plants—where non-essential staff were sent home—and at EU buildings in the French city of Strasbourg, home to the European Parliament.

Interior Minister Jan Jambon announced that Belgium’s terror threat had been raised from three to a maximum of four, and the country’s national security council was due to meet.

And after rumours of arrests and searches, authorities told media to halt all reporting on the investigation into the bombings, “so as not to harm the inquiry”.

In Cairo, the head of Sunni Islam’s leading seat of learning, Al-Azhar, said the attacks “violate the tolerant teachings of Islam”.

Messages of solidarity poured out on social media, with thousands of people sharing images of beloved Belgian cartoon character Tintin in tears.

It has been a week of drama and bloodshed in Brussels.

Last Tuesday saw a shootout in the city’s south that saw a Kalashnikov-wielding man killed and four police officers wounded.

Investigators believe key Paris suspect Abdeslam slipped out of the apartment as the gunbattle broke out. He was arrested three days later in Brussels’ gritty Molenbeek district—just around the corner from his family home.

Foreign Minister Reynders said at the weekend that Abdeslam—believed to have played a key logistical role in the Paris carnage—had told investigators he was planning some sort of new attack.

Shiraz Maher, a radicalisation expert at Kings College London, said it was “very likely that this attack will have been planned and prepared well in advance of last week’s arrest of Salah Abdeslam”.

“It therefore points to the existence of a broad and sophisticated terrorist network in Belgium, that extends beyond the one which attacked France last year,” Maher said. — AFP/Reuters

U.S. created Taliban, not us, says Farooq Abdullah

Sambhal, (Uttar Pradesh), Nov.18 (ANI): National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah on Wednesday blamed the United States of America for rising terrorism across the world and demanded an explanation from President Barack Obama for giving financial assistance to countries encouraging terrorism.

“I want to ask United States of America as who gave training to these terrorists. Who created Taliban? Is there a good Taliban or bad Taliban, terrorists are terrorists. What are they doing in Syria? They(USA) are the ones who encouraged terrorism and now telling India to take action against terrorism. Terrorism around the world is given by west. These attacks around the world are done by the terrorists which have been trained by United States,” Abdullah told the media here.

“First United States should give an explanation of giving financial assistance and weapons to countries in which terrorism are encouraged. So, before pointing fingers at others they should look at themselves,” he added. (ANI)

Anonymous publishes ISIS recruiters’ names, addresses

London, Nov. 18 (ANI): Hacker group Anonymous that had declared a war on Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has published details of alleged ISIS recruiters and took at least 5,500 Twitter accounts down.

According to the Mirror, the masked hacking group declared war against the Islamic State in the wake of the Paris attacks, vowing to silence extremist propaganda and expose undercover operatives.

Now it has leaked details of at least five men it claims are recruiters for ISIS.

Anonymous activists also claimed to have identified a “high-ranking” recruiter living in Europe, but have not yet published an address.

Anonymous is now compiling a massive list of Twitter accounts and web pages ahead of a large cyber-assault due to take place later this evening.

U.S. nervously watches Canada’s massive refugee plan

Fear of the Canadian border as a gateway for terror — a recurring theme in U.S. politics since the attacks of 9/11 — appears to be stirring anew as the sheer heft of the Canadian plan takes shape,

By: Mitch Potter Foreign Affairs Writer,

Toronto Star

It should come as something less than a shock that the United States is watching closely — and in some quarters, nervously — as Canada’s new government moves with bold, audacious speed on Syrian refugees.

Fear of the Canadian border as a gateway for terror — a recurring theme in U.S. politics since the attacks of 9/11, despite all evidence to the contrary — appears to be stirring anew as the sheer heft of the Canadian plan takes shape, with expectations of as many as 1,000 refugees a day arriving in Canada starting Dec. 1.

A telltale clue on the jittery thinking among U.S. officials came even before Friday’s attacks in Paris, when a senior officer with the U.S. embassy in Ottawa was overheard at a public gathering on Remembrance Day bluntly discussing Washington’s anxieties that some among the 25,000 refugees may come intending to travel south and wreak American havoc, ISIS-style.

“The message was very clear and not couched in diplomatic language — I heard, ‘My government is highly concerned’ about the potential threat at the border,” a witness to the U.S. official’s remarks told the Star on condition of anonymity. The official in question, Peter Malecha, a first secretary at the embassy, did not respond to the Star’s request for comment.

It is unclear whether it’s the speed or size of Ottawa’s refugee mobilization — or perhaps both — that rankles most. Either way, the fact that Canada is about to punch far above America’s weight on Syrian refugees is not going unnoticed. The Canadian pledge to absorb 25,000 people by year’s end vastly overshadows anything contemplated in Washington, where officials are looking at opening the door to an additional 10,000 refugees by the end of 2016. In per capita terms, Canada’s target is 25 times more generous than what Washington envisions. And it will happen 12 times faster.

Close watchers of the Canada-U.S. file in Washington say they are unsurprised by the added U.S. scrutiny, given how border security dominates American political conversation. Unlike in Canada, the Syrian refugee debate south of the border has been subsumed into the already overheated political battle over immigration, with Republican frontrunner Donald Trump warning any large influx of refugees represents a “Trojan Horse” security threat.

“These kinds of American anxieties speak to the borders-first mindset that prevails. And at the same time, Ottawa is being watched down here because it is not just a new government but a young government,” said Washington consultant Paul Frazer, a former Canadian diplomat specializing in cross-border issues.

“At the same time we need to keep in mind that we are a long way from 9/11 and the enhancements in border security have grown year after year, with an array of protections, coming and going. Is it presumptuous to sound the alarm about 25,000 people when Germany is dealing with 700,000 refugees as we speak? It probably is.

“But it also speaks to the stakes of this plan,” said Frazer. “If you’re the Canadian minister in charge of the file, you’re going to make sure everything is done with incredible thoroughness. But when all is said and done you will still go to bed at night crossing your fingers.”

ISIL instructors handed 120 children a doll and a sword. Then they were given their next lesson: Behead the ‘infidel’

BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The children each received a doll and a sword. Then they were lined up, more than 120 of them, and given their next lesson by their Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant instructors: Behead the doll.
A 14-year-old who was among the line of abducted boys from Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority said that at first, he couldn’t cut it right – he chopped once, twice, three times.
“Then they taught me how to hold the sword, and they told me how to hit. They told me it was the head of the infidels,” the boy, renamed Yahya by his ISIL captors, recalled in an interview last week with The Associated Press in northern Iraq, where he fled after escaping the ISIL training camp.
When ISIL extremists overran Yazidi towns and villages in northern Iraq last year, they butchered older men. Many of the women and girls they captured were given to ISIL loyalists as sex slaves. But dozens of young Yazidi boys like Yahya had a different fate: the group sought to re-educate them. They forced them to convert to Islam from their ancient faith and then tried to turn them into jihadi extremist fighters.
It is part of a concerted effort by the extremists to build a new generation of militants, according to a series of AP interviews with residents who fled or still live under ISIL in Syria and Iraq. The group is recruiting teens and children, using cash, gifts, intimidation and brainwashing. As a result, children have been plunged into the group’s atrocities. Young boys have been turned into killers, shooting captives in the head in videos issued by the group. Last week, for the first time, a video showed a child involved in a beheading: a boy who appeared younger than 13 decapitating a Syrian army captain. Kids also have been used as suicide bombers.
In schools and mosques, the militants infuse children with their extremist doctrine, often turning them against their own parents. Fighters in the street befriend children with toys. ISIL training camps for children churn out the Ashbal, Arabic for “lion cubs,” young fighters for the “caliphate” that ISIL has declared across the regions its controls. A caliphate is a historic form of Islamic rule that the group claims to be reviving, though the vast majority of Muslims reject its claim.
“They are planting extremism and terrorism in young people’s minds,” said Abu Hafs Naqshabandi, a Syrian sheikh in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa, where he runs religion classes for refugees to counter ISIL ideology. “I am terribly worried about future generations.”
The indoctrination mainly targets the Sunni Muslim children living under ISIL rule. But the abduction of the Yazidis, whom ISIL considers heretics ripe for slaughter, shows how the group sought even to take another community’s youth, erase its past and replace it with ISIL radicalism.
The camp where Yahya and other Yazidi boys were taken was the Farouq Institute for Cubs in the Syrian city of Raqqa, which serves as the extremists’ de facto capital. The boys were given Muslim Arabic names to replace their Kurdish-language names. Yahya asked that the AP not use his real name because of fears of retaliation against himself or his family.
Yahya, his little brother, their mother and hundreds of Yazidis were captured when the extremists overran the town of Sulagh in northern Iraq last year. They were taken to Syria, where the brothers were separated from their mother and put in the Farouq camp, along with other Yazidi boys aged between 8 and 15, Yahya told the AP.
He spent nearly five months there, undergoing eight to 10 hours a day of training, including running, exercising, weapons’ training and studying the Quran. The boys hit each other in some exercises. Yahya said he punched his 10-year-old brother, knocking out his tooth.
“I was forced to do that. (The trainer) said that if I didn’t do it, he’d shoot me,” he said. “They … told us it would make us tougher. They beat us everywhere with their fists.”
In an online ISIL video of the Farouq camp, boys in camouflage do calisthenics. Some repeat back religious interpretation texts they have memorized justifying the killing of prisoners and infidels. An ISIL fighter sitting with a line of boys says they have studied the principles of jihad “so that in the coming days God Almighty can put them in the front lines to battle the infidels.”
ISIL videos from other training camps show young boys in military fatigues marching with weapons, crawling under barbed wire and practicing shooting. One child lies on the ground and fires a machine gun; he’s so small that the recoil bounces his whole body back a few inches. Other scenes show boys undergoing endurance training. They stand unmoving as a trainer punches them or hits their heads with a pole. They lie on the ground as a trainer walks on them.
Most of the children look stony-faced, their only emotion a momentary flicker as they try to remember texts they are told to recite.
“By God, (Barack) Obama and all those allied against the State, we will kill you. Who will? We lion cubs of the caliphate,” proclaims one boy who looks younger than 10, holding an automatic rifle as he addresses the U.S. president.
ISIL has claimed to have hundreds of such camps, though the true number is not known – nor the number of children who have gone through the training. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based organization that follows the Syrian war, said it documented at least 1,100 Syrian children under 16 who joined ISIL so far this year, many of whom were then sent to fight in Syria and Iraq. At least 52 were killed, including eight who blew themselves up in suicide attacks, the organization said.
The effects of the indoctrination are chilling. In an ISIL video released last month, 25 young boys with pistols take position between 25 captured Syrian soldiers brought into the ancient Roman amphitheater in the Syrian city of Palmyra. Unflinching, each boy shoots a soldier in the back of the head. Previous videos have shown boys killing what ISIL alleged were an Israeli spy and two Russian agents.
Often, recruiting starts on the streets of ISIL-held areas at outdoor booths called “media points,” where militants show young people propaganda videos. Militants hold outdoor events for children, distributing soft drinks, candy and biscuits, along with religious pamphlets and CDs. Bit by bit, the idea of jihad as a duty is drilled into young minds. The group’s acolytes distribute toys in the street and tell children to call them if they want to join, according to an anti-ISIL activist who recently fled Raqqa.
“They tell (adults) … `We have given up on you, we care about the new generation,’” the activist said, speaking on condition of anonymity to preserve the safety of relatives living under ISIL rule.
One Raqqa resident told the AP of his neighbour’s 16-year-old son, Ahmed, who spent long hours at his local ISIL-run mosque. Ahmed began picking fights with his family, telling his older brother and parents they were bad Muslims because they didn’t pray.
In November, when he told his family he wanted to join ISIL, his mother wept, while his father told him his family would never take him back. The teen vanished 10 days later. His father was told by ISIL members that his son was fighting for the group in eastern Syria and he should be proud of him.
“They turned him against his family. They convinced him they were apostates,” said the neighbour, a friend of the parents who also spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Ahmed’s family members refused to speak to the AP, fearing ISIL might punish their son for anything they say.
Some parents in ISIL-run areas take their children out of schools to avoid ISIL brainwashing.
In Eski Mosul, a town in northern Iraq recently liberated from ISIL, residents showed the AP a book the militants used to lecture children titled “The Clear Evidence of the Heresy of Those Who Support the Crusader Campaign against the Islamic Caliphate.”
“America is the head of the infidels, atheism and the central base of corruption and moral decay – it is the land of shame, crime, filth, and evil,” the book says.
Umm Ali, a woman from the predominantly Kurdish Syrian town of Afrin who worked in fields held by the extremists in Aleppo province, said her sons were approached by ISIL members several times, and she hated that children saw beheadings and other punishments carried out in public squares.
“I saw one man hanging from a pole, his body badly tortured. Children were taking photographs. It’s horrible, horrible,” she said, crying. She spoke at a health clinic in Gaziantep, Turkey, where she had fled with her six children.
Even in refugee camps, children are not out of ISIL’s reach. Often under the guise of humanitarian organizations, ISIL organizes religious lessons to recruit people, said Naqshabandi, the Syrian sheik. The militants would pay students who enroll 300 Turkish liras ($110) a month, said Abu Omar, a field worker at the camps.
“They taught us to hate,” said a 15-year-old former refugee camp resident who witnessed ISIL indoctrination, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect himself and his family. “This is what they teach” – and he moved his hand sharply across his throat.
Yahya, the Yazidi boy, escaped the ISIL training camp in early March, when ISIL fighters left to carry out an attack. As the remaining guards slept, he said he and his brother slipped away, telling the other children he was going to throw out the garbage. He asked one friend to come with them, but the friend chose to stay. He was Muslim now, the friend said. He liked Islam.
Yahya knew his mother was staying in a house nearby with other abducted Yazidis, since he had occasionally been allowed to visit her. So he and his brother went to her, and then travelled to the ISIL-held northern Syrian city of Minbaj with some fellow Yazidis. There, they stayed with a Russian member of ISIL, Yahya said. After that, he contacted his uncle in northern Iraq, who negotiated to pay the Russian for the two boys and their mother. A deal struck, the Russian sent them to Turkey to meet the uncle and they made their way to the city of Dohuk in the Kurdish autonomous zone of northern Iraq.
Now in a house in Dohuk rented by the uncle, Yahya and his brother spend much of their time watching TV, grateful to be back with their mother and away from the terrifying camp, where they were forced to watch videos of beheadings.
“I was scared,” Yahya said. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to behead someone like that. Even as an adult.”