LONDON – Climate change protesters who have brought parts of central London to a standstill for days say they will lift their blockades.
The group Extinction Rebellion says it will end its remaining demonstrations at Marble Arch and Parliament Square on Thursday.
Last week, the protesters blocked Waterloo Bridge and major intersections including Marble Arch and Oxford Circus, snarling traffic and disrupting bus routes.
The civil disobedience movement saw tented protest sites sprouting around the capital. More than 1,000 people were arrested as police tried to clear the sites, though only about 70 have been charged.
Extinction Rebellion thanked Londoners in a statement Wednesday, saying: “We know we have disrupted your lives. We do not do this lightly. We only do this because this is an emergency.”
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Despite a weakened presence in places such as Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State terrorist group remains a serious threat, said Aaron Cohen, a counter-terrorist and security expert, on “Fox & Friends” Wednesday.
Cohen, a former member of Israel’s elite special forces, said the Easter attack on Sri Lanka churches, hotels and other sites that claimed the lives of more than 300 people showed that the Islamic State appears to be sowing terror through small, affiliated groups.
“The fact that Sri Lanka was able to be attacked by a terror group which essentially had no name at first before ISIS connected the thorns,” Cohen said, “and the fact that this terror organization is connected to ISIS as a smaller proxy organization, or a puppet organization, and the fact that ISIS is able to connect these threads to wannabe, nomad terror groups” means the pressure on them “must stay on.”
“Fox & Friends” host Ed Henry recalled when President Barack Obama in 2014 likened ISIS to a junior varsity basketball team in an attempt to downplay the terrorist group’s level of threat to international security.
“Here we are years later…they can still take deadly action,” Henry said to Cohen.
“What I will say is unlike junior varsity sports teams, terror organizations are extremely well-funded by countries such as Iran,” Cohen said, “continue to not only pay terrorists to carry out acts of terrorism, but fund their families in case they’re lost in the acts of terrorism because they’re looked at as heroes.”
As the death toll from the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka rose to 321 on Tuesday, the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, claimed responsibility and released images that purported to show the attackers, while the country’s prime minister warned that several suspects armed with explosives are still at large.
A top Sri Lanka government official said the suicide bombings were carried out by Islamic fundamentalists in apparent retaliation for the New Zealand mosque massacres last month that a white supremacist has been charged with carrying out.
Cohen said that ISIS militants “are masters in guerrilla warfare, people shouldn’t take this lightly.”
The security expert said that ISIS uses the Internet to recruit militants.
“They use…the dark web to build, plot, plan, and execute a wave of what we call nomad or solo terror attacks,” Cohen said.
ISIS, which traces its roots back to the bloody emergence of Al Qaeda in Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, has survived past defeats and is waging a low-level insurgency in areas it was driven from months or even years ago.
The Islamic State group, which has lost all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, has made a series of unsupported claims of responsibility and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that investigators were still determining the extent of the bombers’ foreign links.
Sri Lankan authorities have blamed the attacks on National Towheed Jamaar, a little-known Islamic extremist group in the island nation. Its leader, alternately known as Mohammed Zahran or Zahran Hashmi, became known to Muslim leaders three years ago for his incendiary speeches online.
The IS group’s Aamaq news agency released an image purported to show the leader of the attackers, standing amid seven others whose faces are covered. The group did not provide any other evidence for its claim, and the identities of those depicted in the image were not independently verified.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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The State Department has said that Iran should release all “innocent U.S. persons” held in that country “immediately” after Iran’s foreign minister claimed Wednesday to have offered a prisoner swap to the Trump administration six months ago.
Javad Zarif told an audience at the Asia Society in New York City that Tehran had not yet received a response from Washington, adding: “If they tell you anything else, they’re lying.”
In response, a State Department spokesperson noted that the U.S. “repeatedly” had called for a “humanitarian resolution of these cases.”
“The Iranian regime can demonstrate its seriousness regarding consular issues, including Iranians who have been indicted or convicted of criminal violations of US [sic] sanctions laws, by releasing innocent U.S. persons immediately,” the spokesperson said. “We call on Iran to free all unjustly detained and missing U.S. persons, including Xiyue Wang, Robert Levinson, Siamak Namazi, and Nizar Zakka, among others.”
Zarif didn’t specify whom Iran might trade, though he mentioned the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman detained in Iran for nearly three years. On the other side, he cited U.S. extradition warrants against an Iranian man with a heart condition held in Germany for trying to buy spare parts for civilian airplanes, and against an Iranian woman imprisoned in Australia for three years who was the translator in a purchase of equipment for Iranian broadcasting. He did not name either of them.
As foreign minister, Zarif said, he could involve himself only on humanitarian grounds and where there is a possibility of a prisoner exchange, which he did once with the United States in January 2016.
“We believe their charges are phony,” he said of Iranians held in the U.S. “The United States believes the charges against these people in Iran are phony.”
“And I put this offer on the table publicly now: Exchange them,” he said. “Let’s discuss them. Let’s have an exchange. I’m ready to do it, and I have authority to do it.”
Four Americans are known to be held in Iran. Wang, a Chinese-American graduate student, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in July 2017 for allegedly “infiltrating” the country while doing doctoral research on Iran’s Qajar dynasty.
Namazi and his octogenarian father, Baquer, a former representative for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF who served as governor of Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province under the U.S.-backed shah, were detained in 2015 and 2016, respectively, and have been serving 10-year sentences on espionage charges.
Zakka, a U.S. permanent resident from Lebanon who advocated for Internet freedom and has done work for the U.S. government, was detained in 2015 and sentenced to 10 years on espionage-related charges.
Levinson, a former FBI agent who vanished in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission in Iran, remains missing. Iran has said Levinson is not in the country and it had no further information about him, though his family has held Tehran responsible for his disappearance.
Others held by Iran include Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssari, who were arrested in July 2016 and received 27-year and 16-year prison sentences, respectively.
Last month, former U.S. Navy cook Michael R. White from Imperial Beach, Calif., was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran, becoming the first American known to be imprisoned there since Trump took office. Washington-based lawyer Mark Zaid told The Associated Press that White was convicted of insulting Iran’s supreme leader and posting private information online, but information surrounding the case remained vague.
Iranian-American Robin Shahini was released on bail in 2017 after staging a hunger strike while serving an 18-year prison sentence for “collaboration with a hostile government.” Shahini has since returned to America and is now suing Iran in U.S. federal court.
Fox News’ Rich Edson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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IXTEPEC, Mexico – The train known as “The Beast” is once again rumbling through the night loaded with people headed toward the U.S. border after a raid on a migrant caravan threatened to end the practice of massive highway marches through Mexico
A long freight train loaded with about 300 to 400 migrants pulled out of the southern city of Ixtepec on Tuesday. They sat atop rattling boxcars and clung precariously to ladders alongside the clanking couplings. Most were young men, along with a few dozen woman and children. Mothers clambered up the railings clutching their infants. Migrants displayed a Honduran flag from atop the train.
The train known in Spanish as “La Bestia,” which runs from the southern border state of Chiapas into neighboring Oaxaca and north into Gulf coast state Veracruz, carried migrants north for decades, despite its notorious dangers: People died or lost limbs falling from the train. Mexican authorities started raiding the trains to pull migrants off in mid-2014 and the number of Central Americans aboard the train fell to a smattering.
But about a week ago, a longtime migrant rights activist, the Rev. Alejandro Solalinde, noticed a change: Large numbers of migrants started getting off the train in Ixtepec, the Oaxaca town where his Brothers on the Road shelter is located.
Many had waited weeks for Mexican visas that never materialized, and simply decided to head north without papers. Others were part of a 3,000-person migrant caravan that was broken up in a raid Monday by federal police and immigration agents on a highway east of Ixtepec.
With dozens of police and immigration checkpoints dotting the highways, many migrants now view the train as a safer, albeit still risky, way to reach the U.S. border.
“They’re riding the train again, that’s a fact,” said Solalinde, who shelter now houses about 300 train-riding migrants. “It’s going to go back to the way it was, the (Mexican) government doesn’t want them to be seen. If the migrants move quietly like a stream of little ants, they’ll allow them to, but they are not going to allow them to move through Mexico publicly or massively” as they did with the large caravans that began in October. In fact, Solalinde predicts “they’re not going to allow caravans anymore.”
In Monday’s raid, federal police and agents detained 367 people, wrestling men, women and children into patrol trucks and vans and hauling them off, presumably to begin deportation proceedings. Many other migrants abandoned the road and fled into the surrounding countryside.
The decision to turn to “The Beast” derives from several reasons, all related to the crackdown.
With throngs of police pickups and small immigration vans parked at checkpoints up and down the narrow waist of southern Mexico, hitchhiking, taking buses or walking is no longer an option. Truckers, warned by the government that they could face fines, no longer give rides to the migrants as they did last year. Migrants are pulled off buses, and rounded up off the sides of highways when they stop to rest.
“Now we’re going by train because we can’t go on buses, because they won’t let us through,” said Rudi Margarita Montoya, the wife of a Honduran carpenter, who was perched atop a freight car with her young son and daughter and her husband.
It’s not as if the migrants think the train is safe; they acknowledge the dangers of riding through the darkness perched high atop the freight cars. Just like increased U.S. border protection, Mexico’s increased enforcement efforts push migrants into using more dangerous means of travel.
Carlos Marroquín, a mechanic from El Salvador, and his wife Brenda Gómez, 24, clambered onto the train with their son, 5 and daughter, 10. Marroquin ticked off the dangers facing them on the rails: “There are drug traffickers, gangs, thieves, but we’re putting everything into this, because it means everything.”
“If we can’t walk, if we can’t take the bus, we’ll go on the train,” Marroquin said.
Denis Funes, a migrant from central Honduras whose sun-beaten skin and leathery hands betray his past as a farmworker, says he saw a fellow Honduran knocked off the train the previous night by a low-hanging branch that caught the man in the face and sent him hurtling to the tracks below. Funes and his companions could do nothing to help the man; the train was moving too fast to jump off. “He’s still back there somewhere,” Funes said. But he remains undeterred. “We’re going to rely on the train, despite everything we know that can happen to us.”
Gomez and many others were also driven to desperation by another change in Mexican policy. Whereas in late 2018 and early 2019 authorities were handing out humanitarian visas and processing asylum requests, they have now largely stopped doing so, instead making migrants wait weeks in the southern town of Mapastepec for visas that never seem to come.
Gomez said “They lied to us, they made us spend a month at the shelter, they told us they were going to give up papers but they never did.”
Enrique Valiente, a 19-year-old roofer from El Salvador who came to the U.S. at 3, spent much of his life in Nevada and was deported last May after a traffic stop. He said Mexico had flatly refused to consider him for asylum. He is afraid to return to his native country — which he knows little about and where he has almost no remaining relatives — because he isn’t familiar with complex rules of getting along with street gangs in El Salvador, and could fall afoul of them.
He doesn’t even plan to sneak back into the United States; his dream is to use his perfect English to find work at a call center in the border city of Tijuana. But he can’t do that without papers.
“I asked them to consider me for asylum and they just said ‘No, you’ve been rejected.”
The train was popular for years, back when “caravan” just meant small Holy Week demonstrations by migrants on the Guatemala-Mexico border. Now, the train is popular once again. Solalinde compared it to trying to squeeze off a leaky garden hose: Wherever Mexican authorities crackdown, the migrants find an alternate route.
“Nobody is ever going to be able to stop the flow of migration,” Solalinde said.
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Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Wednesday announced plans for a second referendum on Scottish independence before 2021, less than five years after Scots rejected the vote on separating from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Sturgeon, leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party, cited the uncertainty around Britain’s departure from the European Union as a motivating factor for the push.
“If we are to safeguard Scotland’s interests, we cannot wait indefinitely. That is why I consider that a choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation should be offered in the lifetime of this Parliament,” she told Scottish lawmakers in Holyrood.
The next Scottish election is scheduled for May 2021.
“If Scotland is taken out of the E.U., the option of a referendum on independence within that timescale must be open to us. That would be our route to avoiding the worst of the damage Brexit will do,” she said
Scotland voted to remain within the United Kingdom in a 2014 referendum by a vote of 55-45 percent, but a majority of the country also voted to remain within the European Union in 2016 by a margin of 62-38 percent — although the U.K. as a whole voted to leave.
It has led Sturgeon and others in favor of independence to argue that Scotland is being taken out of the E.U. without its permission — giving them a reason for a second referendum.
That process has been dogged by complications and delays, with the U.K. Parliament voting down Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement multiple times, leading to a delay of Britain’s departure until as late as Oct. 31. That vote has also seen calls for a second referendum amid the lengthy delay.
Any push for Scottish independence would require approval by the British government. May’s government has consistently rebuffed calls for a second Brexit referendum, saying that such a move would be a betrayal of the British people’s vote. It would, therefore, be unlikely to also grant a second Scottish referendum, particularly as May’s Conservative Party has been consistently opposed to Scottish independence, although May’s predecessor David Cameron’s government agreed to the 2014 referendum.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell said in a statement Wednesday that Scots “voted decisively in 2014 to remain part of the U.K., on a promise that the referendum would settle the issue for a generation.”
“Instead of respecting that result, Nicola Sturgeon continues to press for divisive constitutional change when it is clear that most people in Scotland do not want another independence referendum,” he said. “The UK government will stand up for them.”
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Before the undertakers could move in, Anusha Kumari wrested herself away from her sisters and flung herself on the three coffins, wailing. In an instant on Sunday, the 43-year-old woman was left childless and a widow when suicide bombers launched a coordinated attack on churches and luxury hotels in and near Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo.
The toll was highest at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo. Of the more than 350 people killed by the suicide bombings that the government blamed on Muslim extremists, about a third of them died at the church in the seaside fishing town while attending Easter Mass.
And perhaps no one lost more relatives than Kumari, whose daughter, son, husband, sister-in-law and two nieces were killed.
They were buried three days later near the church on some vacant land that has quickly become a cemetery for the victims.
Kumari, who is still injured from the blast, left the hospital to bury her family. Afterward, she reclined in a cane chair at her home, hooked up to an IV dangling from an open window. Gauze bandages covered the bridge of her nose and her right eye. There was still shrapnel in her face.
A photo of her children was on the wall, while on the shelf were small statues of Jesus, Mary and St. Sebastian, an early Christian martyr riddled with wounds from Roman arrows.
She could see her son’s drum kit on the upstairs landing, a gift from his father after doing well on exams, and a school portrait of her daughter. All day, relatives, neighbors and nuns wandered in and out of the large house, offering food, consolation and prayer.
“You won’t believe it, but I had the perfect family,” Kumari said. “In 24 years of marriage, my husband and I never argued. All four of us slept in the same room. Now I have lost everything.”
Tears mixed with blood from her bandaged right eye.
“All these people, they have their own families. They’ll go home and I’ll be alone,” she said.
A brother-in-law, Jude Prasad Appuhami, said his extended family, one of the oldest and most prominent in Catholic-majority Negombo, marked all the religious holidays and rituals at St. Sebastian’s, a Gothic-style church patterned after Reims Cathedral in France.
On Easter, though, he wasn’t in church with his 15 relatives because he had to drive a vehicle carrying a statue of Christ for a parade after Mass.
Appuhami arrived midway through the service and heard the blast from the parking lot. He rushed in and was overwhelmed by the sight of so much blood. One of his sisters-in-law, who survived, shouted for him to help their niece.
He found her with her eyes open, picked her up and rushed to the hospital, only to realize she was dead.
Appuhami’s wife and 10-year-old daughter, sitting in an alcove to the left of the altar, escaped with minor injuries. His 17-year-old daughter, Rusiri, who was sitting at the front of the church because she was going to do a reading from Scripture, also survived, but she was left with nerve damage that makes eating painful.
On Wednesday, she struggled to grasp what she has seen.
“I don’t know how to think of it. It’s like a dream,” she said.
During the funeral at the makeshift cemetery near St. Sebastian’s, where mourners had to pass through security checks, a military drone buzzed overhead as the Rev. Niroshan Perera led prayers for the dead.
Perera, who grew up with Kumari’s husband, Dulip Appuhami, and his siblings, recalled going as a boy with his friends and family to the church’s well, where the faithful believed the water could cure them of diseases.
When the funeral ended, Perera encouraged everyone to go home quickly, fearing another attack.
Perera, who lost 16 relatives and friends in the blast, said he no longer trusted the Sri Lankan government to protect his flock.
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The North Korean leader’s distinct armored green train pulled up to the station in Vladivostok and came to a stop as North Korean officials scrambled to the door to put down ramps. The staff, however, realized the train’s door did not line up with the red carpet that was rolled out ahead of the arrival.
Video showed an official opening the door and noticing the error. The engineer was then forced to roll the train backward in an attempt to line up with the carpet — but it still didn’t go as planned.
Two North Korean staffers realized the train door was still a few inches off from perfectly lining up with the red carpet when they placed the green ramp down. They appeared to take a moment to think about how they could resolve the issue before ultimately deciding to leave it how it is.
Kim was greeted by a military orchestra before he got into his personal limousine that traveled with him, and drove away. He is expected to attend a dinner reception hosted by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev, according to South Korean media.
The despot traveled to Russia with a big entourage — possibly more than 200 people — and lots of supplies. Kim’s officials are reportedly tasked to collect his bodily waste and cigarette butts to prevent foreign intelligence agencies from collecting and analyzing them for clues into the leader’s health.
The North Korea-Russia summit comes two months after Kim and President Trump met for the second time, but ended up cutting their meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, short after both sides failed to reach an agreement due to disputes over U.S.-led sanction on the North.
The Hermit Kingdom has continued to express its frustration over deadlock negotiations despite Kim insisting after the Hanoi summit that his regime was still committed to denuclearization.
Last week, North Korea tested a new weapon and demanded U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to be removed from nuclear talks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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NEGOMBO, Sri Lanka – On Sunday, 43-year-old Anusha Kumari was left childless and a widow when suicide bombers launched a coordinated attack on churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka.
More than 350 people were killed in the near-simultaneous bombings. About a third of the victims were celebrating Easter Mass at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo.
Kumari lost her daughter, son, husband, sister-in-law and two nieces.
They were buried three days later on some vacant land near the stricken church that has quickly become a cemetery for some of the bombing victims.
Sri Lanka’s president has asked for the resignations of the defense secretary and national police chief after acknowledging that some intelligence units were aware of threats to churches before the Easter bombings.
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DHAKA, Bangladesh – An official says a fire in a sprawling Rohingya refugee camp in southern Bangladesh has destroyed more than two dozen huts and a mosque.
The official in Cox’s Bazar district, Mikaruzzman Chowdhury, says no injuries occurred in the fire, which broke out Wednesday in a camp in Kutupalong. He says 28 huts and a mosque were destroyed.
Chowdhury says firefighters were able to douse the blaze before it spread further.
More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh from western Myanmar’s Rakhine state to escape an army-led crackdown on the minority group that started in August 2017. Critics have described the campaign as ethnic cleansing, or even genocide, on the part of Myanmar security forces.
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BERLIN – German prosecutors say they’ve indicted a 21-year-old woman on suspicion of membership in the Islamic State group and of keeping three Yazidis as slaves in Syria.
Federal prosecutors said Wednesday that the German-Algerian woman, identified as Sarah O. for privacy reasons, traveled to Syria as a teenager in 2013, joined IS and married a fellow German IS recruit.
Both allegedly received firearms training and conducted “guard and police duties” in IS-controlled areas. They also forced a Yazidi girl and two Yazidi women to work in their household and convert to Islam.
She was arrested in September upon her return to Germany.
O.’s parents-in-law, 51-year-old Ahmed S. and 48-year-old Perihan S., allegedly helped their sons supply IS with equipment such as firearms magazines and scopes. They are indicted on suspicion of aiding IS.
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