A survivor of a mass shooting in a New Zealand mosque said a man wrestled the shooter’s gun out of his hands and then chased him out of the mosque in a bid to save more lives.
Syed Mazharuddin, a witness of the shooting in Christchurch’s Linwood Mosque on March 15, 2019, told the New Zealand Herald newspaper that a “young guy who usually takes care of the mosque” tackled the gunman.
He said the man “pounced” on the gunman, “took his gun,” and then chased him out of the building.
“The hero tried to chase and he couldn’t find the trigger in the gun … he ran behind him but there were people waiting for him in the car and he fled,” Mazharuddin said.
Seven people were killed in the Linwood Mosque and 41 people were killed in a connected attack at the Al Noor Mosque 3 1/2 miles away. One person died at Christchurch Hospital, where 48 others, including children, are being treated for gunshot wounds.
Al Noor Mosque.
Khaled Al-Nobani, a survivor of the shooting at the Al Noor Mosque, told the Herald that a man tried to take the gun from the shooter at that mosque but that the gunman “shot him straight away.”
Mazharuddin told the Herald that the shooter fired at people who were praying at the Linwood Mosque.
“Just around the entrance door there were elderly people sitting there praying, and he just started shooting at them,” he said.
Mazharuddin said he has friends who were shot in the chest. He said one was shot in the head.
One of his friends was killed, he said. “I ran out and then the police came, and they didn’t let me come back in again, so I couldn’t save my friend,” he said. “He was bleeding heavily.”
Survivors shared their accounts of New Zealand’s ‘darkest day’
Other survivors have shared their accounts of the terrorist attacks, including seeing piles of bodies, some dead.
One witness told CNN that he lay still “praying to God, oh God please let this guy run out of bullets.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described March 15, 2019, as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”
Police have charged one man with murder, and two other people are in custody.
The gunman appeared to livestream the shooting on Facebook, and a manifesto claiming responsibility for the shooting praises far-right terrorists and describes hatred for Muslims and immigrants.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed that two “military personnel” died in a mortar attack on its Khmeimim airbase in Syria’s Latakia Province on Dec. 31.
The admission comes amid reports from Russian newspaper Kommersant that the attack destroyed at least seven Russian aircraft as well — four Su-24 bombers, two Su-35S fighters, and an An-72 transport plane. Kommersant also reported that an ammunition depot was destroyed as well.
But the Russian MoD pushed back on those reports, according to the Russian government-funded news outlet RT.
“Kommersant’s report on the alleged ‘destruction’ of seven Russian military aircraft at Khmeimim Airbase is fake,” the MoD said in a statement, according to RT.
It would not be the first time Russian aircraft were destroyed in an artillery attack at an airbase in Syria.
STRATFOR published satellite imagery last May that revealed an ISIS attack at the T4 air base in central Syria had resulted in the destruction of four Russian Mi-24 attack helicopters and a supply depot. The attack also damaged a Syrian MiG-25 “that was likely already out of commission,” according to STRATFOR.
Other incidents have included a Russian jet being shot down and several reports of jets crashing due to mechanical failure.
Widescale destruction of Russian jets from ground attacks has not been reported before, and would be a significantly larger loss.
When her duty day is over, Army Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Owen often wonders if she did enough to help identify fallen service members.
As the noncommissioned officer in charge of the morgue at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which is tasked to account for more than 82,000 Americans missing from past conflicts, she analyzes human remains and personal effects in hopes to close a cold case.
“At the end of the day, I have to be able to look in the mirror and say I’ve done my best,” she said. “And when I get up in the morning, I say I’m going to do better, because these families have been waiting years and years.”
Owens is one of about 100 service members and civilians who work at the agency’s laboratories here and at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. Each year, the labs identify the remains of around 200 Americans that are then reunited with families.
On Aug. 1, more than 50 cases containing remains believed to be those of American service members were provided to DPAA by North Korea.
The remains are now undergoing further analysis and identification at the labs.
The painstaking work, which can take months to years to complete, is Owen’s passion. Whenever a positive identification comes in, she said, it is as if the service member’s name is given back.
An honor guard provided by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command conducts an honorable carry ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 1, 2018. Carry teams will move 55 flag-draped transfer cases, containing what are believed to be the remains of American service members lost in the Korean War, to the DPAA laboratory at JBPH-H for identification.
(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Apryl Hall)
‘These Are All Heroes’
“What drives me the most is that these are heroes,” she said, looking across a lab holding hundreds of unknown remains. “These are all heroes [who] have a name and a family.”
Each year, DPAA conducts up to 80 investigation and recovery team missions throughout the world to pinpoint last known locations of missing Americans and to attempt to excavate their remains.
“The work is complex, the work is difficult, and it takes that dedication, that passion … to be able to perform this solemn obligation that we make to the nation and to the families,” said Kelly McKeague, the agency’s director.
The joint agency, which employs many service members and veterans, has agreements with nearly 50 nations that assist in its missions, he added.
Most of the missing fell at World War II battle sites in the Pacific region. There are also almost 7,700 service members unaccounted for from the Korean War, with the majority believed to be in North Korea.
DPAA teams were allowed to conduct missions in North Korea from 1996 to 2005, but operations were halted as diplomatic relations deteriorated in the region. Agency officials hope these missions could soon start up again.
Before he became the agency’s lab director, John Byrd had the opportunity to help recover Americans who fought in North Korea at the Battle of Unsan. The 1950 battle pitted Chinese forces against American and South Korean troops.
When remains are identified by his staff it is always a testament to good field and lab work that solved the decades-old case, Byrd said.
“It’s extremely gratifying,” he said, “and it kind of keeps you grounded where you know why you’re here and why you’re doing this work.”
Army Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Owen, a morgue noncommissioned officer for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, examines a personal effect that may have belonged to a fallen service member in a laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, March 12, 2018.
(Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
A majority of DPAA cases involve some type of DNA testing. Samples are taken from the remains and sent to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Lab in Delaware.
To help this process, family members who have a missing loved one are encouraged to provide a DNA sample that will serve as a comparison.
If no reference samples are on file, a battalion of professional genealogists working for service casualty offices will try to locate family members.
Many times their starting point is the service member’s home address from the 1940s, if they served in World War II. This makes it extremely difficult to track down a living family member as the years pass on.
“It’s one of the greatest challenges of all. How do you find close family members of a missing serviceman from 1944?” Byrd asked. “It’s not easy. Some [cases] we run into dead-ends and we can’t find anybody.”
The Defense Department has kept dental records of troops dating back to World War I that can be used to help in the identification process.
In 2005, the agency also discovered another method that has proved successful. Many troops who served in early conflicts had to get chest X-rays as part of a tuberculosis screening when they first signed up.
Like the dental records, these radiographs were stored in a warehouse by the DoD. DPAA later obtained thousands of copies of them. Lab personnel use them as a comparison tool, since the shape of each person’s chest is different.
“The process of comparing this induction chest x-ray to an x-ray we take from the remains is analogous to doing fingerprint comparison,” Byrd said. “It’s a very similar kind of mindset that you take when you look at the two side-by-side; you’re looking for commonalities and differences.”
When a service member is identified, family members often come to the lab so they can participate in escorting the remains back home, he said. For those who work at the lab, those family member visits make the months or years of work seem worthwhile.
“When you have a family member come in and the staff who actually worked on the case get to meet them, they get to see the tangible results of their hard work,” Byrd said. “It’s definitely a boost to their morale.”
Members of the 647th Force Support Squadron search and recovery team tag and mark simulated remains during the search and recovery team’s training event on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Oct. 27, 2017. The search and recovery team is tasked with recovering human remains from accident sites.
(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman)
In the Field
Before that sort of closure can start for families, recovery teams spend weeks at a time doing the grunt work of excavating sites.
Army Capt. Brandon Lucas, who serves as a team leader, recalled his team digging nearly 20 feet into the ground in Laos in search of an F-4 Phantom fighter pilot who vanished during the Vietnam War.
While no remains were found on that mission, they were still able to confidently close the site and shift efforts elsewhere.
Then there was another mission in Slovenia, where the tail gunner of a bomber aircraft from World War II went missing.
When his plane crashed, the gunner was the only one in his aircrew killed. Residents later buried him next to a church.
As Lucas’ team arrived at the site, the townspeople still knew about the crash and the gunner. Residents regularly visited his team, often bringing Lucas and the others food and drinks. An elderly woman even told him that for decades she would clean the grave site once a week.
When his team recovered the remains, a somber tone spread through the community.
“A lot of them actually shed tears when we found the remains,” Lucas said. “It was special to them and it was special to me.”
The poignant moment, along with others he has experienced during missions, galvanized the meaning of the mission for him.
“I’m potentially bringing back a fallen comrade,” Lucas said. “I would want to know that if it was me lost out there somebody is trying to recover me and give my family closure.”
Recovery missions also extend out into the sea, where many service members have disappeared as a result of aircraft crashes or ships sunk.
While she served as commander of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, Army Maj. Gen. Susan A. Davidson was an advocate for her unit to support the solemn mission.
The unit regularly supplies DPAA with highly-trained Army divers from the 7th Engineer Dive Detachment, who often work on the sea floor with no visibility and use a suction hose to remove loose sediment from recovery sites.
On a barge, team members then sift through the sediment for the remains or personal effects of those missing.
When divers returned to Hawaii, she encouraged them to share their experiences and what they got out of the mission with others in the unit.
“They come back a different person and they have a different respect for our Army and for what we do,” Davidson said.
Back at the lab, Owen and others strive to identity those heroes who have been found.
“I feel that I am part of something so much bigger that I can contribute to,” she said.
The HMS Conquerer is the only nuclear-powered submarine to engage an enemy with torpedoes. In a sea engagement during the Falklands War in the 1980s, two of the three shots fired at an Argentine cruiser hit home. Her hull pierces, the General Belgrano began listing and her captain called for the crew to abandon ship within 20 minutes.
In line with Royal Navy tradition, the Conquerer flew a Jolly Roger – a pirate flag – to note her victory at sea.
Submarines were considered “underhand, unfair and damned un-English,” by Sir Arthur Wilson, who was First Sea Lord when subs were introduced to the Royal Navy. Hs even threatened to hang all sub crews as pirates during wartime.
The insult stuck. When the HMS E9 sunk a German cruiser during WWI — the Royal Navy’s first submarine victory — its commander had a Jolly Roger made and it flew from the periscope as the sub sailed back to port.
The pirate flag soon became the official emblem of Britain’s silent service.
The British submarine HMS Utmost showing off their Jolly Roger in February 1942. The markings on the flag indicate the boat’s achievements: nine ships torpedoed (including one warship), eight ‘cloak and dagger’ operations, one target destroyed by gunfire, and one at-sea rescue. (Imperial War Museum)
The 1982 sinking of the Argentine General Belgrano was only the second instance of a submarine sinking a surface ship since the end of World War II.
Argentinian sailors reported a “fireball” shooting up through the ship, which means it was not cleared for action. If the crew was ready for a fight, ideally, the ship’s doors and hatches would have been sealed to keep out fire and water, author Larry Bond wrote in his book “Crash Dive,” which covers the incident.
The Royal Navy’s Cmdr. Chris Wreford-Brown, the captain of the Conqueror, later said of the sinking:
“The Royal Navy spent 13 years preparing me for such an occasion. It would have been regarded as extremely dreary if I had fouled it up.”
Ships from Argentina and neighboring Chile rescued 772 men over the next two days. The attack killed 321 sailors and two civilians.
The Argentine Navy returned to port and was largely out of the rest of the war.
Operation Supply Drop (OSD) is the kind of organization that sounds very simple at first. They collect donated video games, console systems, and cash to send gaming care packages to troops overseas and here in the United States. The nonprofit calls these care packages “supply drops.”
As anyone who’s been deployed can attest, the periods of excitement and fear are interspersed with long periods of monotony. OSD began in a garage with an Iraq War vet boxing up donations to help his peers enjoy the same hobby he loved: gaming.
From those humble roots, OSD has now grown into a charity that does a lot more. While they still generate care packages for deployed service members, they’ve expanded into creating unique experiences for veterans, fighting veteran joblessness, and other causes which affect warriors.
The expansion had some growing pains. The founder publicly split and created his own new organization. But the CEO, Glen Banton, is excited for all the ways OSD’s expanded mission has let them serve veterans.
“We’re in the business of helping veterans,” he said in an interview with WATM. “Unfortunately, the video game thing sometimes overshadows the other things we do. But essentially, it needs to be about putting veterans first. How can we keep supporting as many vets as possible. That’s while you’re deployed and need something to spend your time with, or when you get home and have other needs.”
OSD began by enlarging the supply drop program, and then adding on new programs.
“The supply drops increased in size and scope. We started going to bases themselves, rec centers, mess halls, day rooms, hospitals, events, Halloween and Christmas parties… Anywhere we can impact a lot of troops per day and have fun.”
In a recent supply drop at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, OSD worked with Army occupational therapist Maj. Eric Johnson who has used video games to help wounded warriors progress in their therapy. But the center had just an old Nintendo Wii with which to work.
Johnson gave a wish list to OSD who was able to get the medical center six new video game consoles and almost 100 games plus peripherals like steering wheels. It was OSD’s largest supply drop yet.
“Glen and his team, they came with OSD last week and, blew me away,” Johnson said. “Way more than I had asked for, way more than I anticipated.”
Wounded warriors play video games at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas after a the Operation Supply Drops largest drop. Photo: Courtesy Operation Supply Drop
Then there are “Thank You Deployments,” where a veteran or a small group of veterans get to participate in a special event or outing, usually by working with corporate or non-profit partners.
“There are VIP outings, genuinely relevant to the veteran,” Banton said. “So, we might take them to a gaming conference or on a trip to a studio. But there might be other stuff.
“We’ve had race car experiences. We met a driver who worked for Forza and is a vet. He helps get them full access, a ride in the pace car, access to the lounge. It’s really amazing.
“And as the community grows, it continues to get broader and broader. It doesn’t take us away from gaming. It takes us to people who are gamers and do other stuff.”
OSD also has a “Teams” program. The teams encourage people to get locally connected with active duty service members and veterans so everyone can engage at the local level on big issues like veteran suicide, depression, homelessness, and unemployment.
“The Teams Program is the action arm of OSD,” Banton said. “They’re local chapters with veteran and civilian members who address things like veteran suicide or homelessness. Really, what we look at with the teams is, how do we create within Seattle, L.A., Muncie, Indiana, how do we engage in a way that helps?”
While it may seem like this is OSD straying from their roots as a gamer-veteran focused charity, Banton and his team don’t see it that way.
Glenn explained, “If someone asks, ‘Hey, OSD, I need some help and don’t know where to go. I think I can get this job but I don’t have the clothes,’ or ‘I don’t have the home base to do the interview,’ we can help with that.
“So we can, for a thousand dollars, get them housed for six months and get them help through this community, then they become a big part of the community.
“That individual doesn’t have space to enjoy an XBox if he wanted to. to us, it’s very clear and it’s easy. We know exactly what we’re supposed to be doing: Inspiring veterans and other civilian supporters to give back to those around them.”
For those interested in getting involved helping veterans through OSD, head to “The Teams” page, make a donation, or learn about the 8-bit Salute where gamers can play to raise money for future supply drops and other events.
Russia has lashed out at the United States over new sanctions announced by Washington, calling the measures “unacceptable” and illegal and saying it reserves the right to retaliate.
In remarks on April 9, 2018, senior officials in President Vladimir Putin’s government also said they were assessing the damage to Russian companies and promised state support for big Russian firms targeted by the punitive measures.
They spoke as the ruble and Russian stock indexes fell, with companies included on the U.S. sanctions list — such as tycoon Oleg Deripaska’s aluminum giant Rusal — taking substantial hits.
On April 6, 2018, the United States imposed asset freezes and financial restrictions on a slew of Russian security officials, politicians, and tycoons believed to have close ties to Putin — part of an attempt to punish Moscow for what the U.S. Treasury Department called “malign activity around the globe.”
The new sanctions were “glaring in their illegality,” said Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, adding that Russian authorities were analyzing the potential effects on the economy. He refrained from quantifying the potential losses when asked, saying that “we are seeing the first effects” of the sanctions.
“We need time to understand the scale and work out measures to react,” Peskov said.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that the new sanctions were “unacceptable, without a doubt, and we consider them illegitimate as they are entirely outside the realm of international law.”
He alleged that they were imposed to protect U.S. companies from Russian competition, warned that Moscow reserves the right to retaliate, and ordered the government to work out “specific proposals on what concrete support” the state could provide the companies targeted.
The dollar, and the euro rose substantially against the ruble, hitting their highest rates since the second half of 2017, and the dollar-denominated RTS stock index was down more than 11 percent, hitting its lowest level since September 2017.
The sanctions were levied under a 2017 law passed by Congress over President Donald Trump’s objections.
In January 2018, the administration came under criticism in Congress and elsewhere for releasing an “oligarchs list” — naming the business and political leaders who could be potentially targeted — but not actually imposing any penalties.
In other fallout from the new sanctions, Russian aluminum giant Rusal saw its share price plummet after the company and co-owner Deripaska were targeted, prompting the producer to warn of potential debt defaults.
Rusal stock nearly halved to HK$2.39 in Hong Kong trading on April 9, 2018, while aluminum prices surged. Rusal shares were losing more than 20 percent in the Moscow stock exchange.
Trading of Deripaska’s En+ Group, which manages Deripaska’s assets, was temporarily halted in London after its shares lost almost one quarter of their value.
The sanctions increase the risk that Russian companies could lose access to the U.S. market — which accounted for about 14 percent of Rusal’s revenue in 2017, Reuters quoted analysts at Russia’s Promsvyazbank as saying.
In a sign that Russian companies could also see investment partners withdraw to reduce their risks, Swiss engineering company Sulzer decided to buy back 5 million of its own shares from majority shareholder Renova Group after an emergency board meeting on April 8, 2018, Reuters reported.
Viktor Vekselberg, a prominent Russian tycoon who is Renova’s chairman, was included on the sanctions list.
Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, one of several officials who suggested the state would step up support for Russian companies hit by the sanctions, portrayed them as a blow to ordinary workers — not just tycoons like Deripaska.
“Support for these companies is being provided on a consistent basis. We are very attentive toward our leading companies — these are thousands-strong collectives that are very important to our country,” Dvorkovich told journalists when asked about the issue.
“But in the current situation, as their situation deteriorates, we will provide this support.”
Rusal said the sanctions may result in technical defaults on some credit obligations and be “materially adverse to the business and prospects of the group,” casting a cloud over its future performance.
Rusal is the biggest aluminum maker outside China, accounting for some 7 percent of the world’s production.
Deripaska has called the U.S. decision to impose sanctions on him “groundless, ridiculous, and absurd.”
Earlier on April 9, 2018, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow was considering how to respond.
“We have a whole list of possible measures that are being studied,” Zakharova said.
Asked whether the Russian response would be harsh, Zakharova said that she “would rather not jump the gun.”
“We are considering our countermeasures, as we always do,” she said.
U.S. President Donald Trump and his Iraqi counterpart Barham Salih have agreed on the need for U.S. military to maintain its presence in the Middle Eastern country, the White House says following a meeting of the two in Switzerland.
“The two leaders agreed on the importance of continuing the United States-Iraq economic and security partnership, including the fight against [the Islamic State terror group],” the White House said on January 22.
“President Trump reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering commitment to a sovereign, stable, and prosperous Iraq.”
The two presidents met on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos — their first meeting since the United States killed a top Iranian commander, Major General Qasem Soleimani, in Baghdad, angering many Iraqi politicians and leading to a call by the country’s parliament to expel U.S. troops.
Before the meeting, Salih said that Washington and Baghdad “have had an enduring relationship, and the United States has been a partner to Iraq and in the war” against Islamic State.
He later told Trump that “this mission needs to be accomplished, and I believe you and I share the same mission for a stable, sovereign Iraq that is at peace with itself and at peace with its neighbors.”
Since the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq has attempted to balance relations with Washington and Tehran, which maintains strong influence with Shi’ite militias, although recent street protests have expressed anger about foreign influence in the country.
Separately, U.S. Major General Alexus Grynkewich, the No. 2 commander for the international anti-IS coalition in Iraq and Syria, said the extremist group has been weakened but that a resurgence is possible should the United States leaves Iraq.
He told a Pentagon news conference that the extremists “certainly still remain a threat. They have the potential to resurge if we take pressure off of them for too long,” although he said he did not see a threat of an immediate comeback.
“But the more time we take pressure off of them, the more of that threat will continue to grow,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.
There’s an old U.S. Marine adage: “The only color that matters in the Corps is green.” That saying got its start in the 1970s under the guidance of Gen. Leonard Chapman, Jr. In the 20th Century, the U.S. military was far ahead of the rest of the country in terms of race relations.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its shameful moments.
There are so many stories of American troops overcoming racial bias in World War II because Chapman is right: the only color that mattered was (and still is) green. It would be years before these stories became widespread. It would take even longer for the stories of racial bias without happy endings to come to light.
One such story is that Cpl. John E. James, Jr. James, an African-American drafted in 1941, attended officer training school at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1942. But instead of graduating with the deserved rank of second lieutenant, he was given corporal’s stripes and shipped overseas with an all-black unit.
The U.S. Army rectified that error in judgment on June 29, 2018, according to the New York Times. James was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant at age 98.
“It’s unbelievable,” James, who comes from a military family dating all the way back to the Revolution, told the New York Times. “I thought it would never happen.”
James’ daughter spent three years fighting the Army Review Board to get her father his promotion. It was originally denied because his OCS records were lost in a fire – but they resurfaced in the National Archives. His daughter even had a photo of his graduating class as proof.
(Museum of the American Revolution)
When James was told he wasn’t going to be an officer, he did his duty like any U.S. troop might have during World War II. He took the racial injustice and became a typist in a quartermaster battalion. When he got home after the war, he didn’t even tell his wife.
But 76 years later, with the support of his family and his senator, he found himself reciting the officer’s oath to retired Air Force General and former Chief of Staff John P. Jumper at the Museum of the American Revolution.
There is no word on his date of rank and if it comes with back pay.
Russia’s military leaders have reportedly called its intelligence service “deeply incompetent” after Western investigators accused its agents of being behind the nerve agent poisoning in England and an attempted hack into the global chemical weapons watchdog.
Photographs showing Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Borishov, two men accused of poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal.
(London Metropolitan Police)
The GRU was described in the meeting, MBK said, as “deeply incompetent,” “infinitely careless,” “morons,” and people that “would still wear the budenovka” — a phrase that means being outdated. The budenovka was a military hat worn in the late 1910s and early 1920s, shortly after the Russian tsar was deposed.
The defense leaders are also considering a “big sweep” at the GRU and ask some of its generals to leave, MBK said.
MBK was founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a prominent Kremlin critic.
Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal buying groceries in Salisbury, England, days before he was poisoned with military-grade nerve agent.
( ITV News)
in September 2018 the UK accused two Russian men of traveling to Salisbury, England, and poisoning Skripal and his daughter with military-grade nerve agent this March, and said they were GRU agents traveling under pseudonyms.
The two men also went on national Russian TV to say that they only visited England to visit a cathedral.
Investigative journalism site Bellingcat, however, has since identified Petrov as Dr. Alexander Mishkin, “a trained military doctor in the employ of the GRU,” and Boshirov as Col. Anatoliy Chepiga, a highly decorated officer with the GRU.
Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov told RT’s editor-in-chief they had nothing to do with the Skripals’ poisoning. Sept. 12, 2018.
In early October 2018, the Netherlands also accused four Russian GRU agents of trying to launch a cyberattack on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the world’s chemical weapons watchdog. The OPCW was, at the time, investigating the nerve agent attack on Skripal and a reported chemical attack in Douma, Syria, where Russian jets have bombed.
The men — two tech experts and two support agents — were caught red-handed and attempted to destroy some of the equipment to conceal their actions, Dutch authorities said.
The Netherlands then determined that they were agents of the GRU after finding that one of their phones was activated near the GRU building in Moscow, and discovering a receipt for a taxi journey from a street near the GRU to the Moscow airport, the BBC reported.
Mark Urban, a British journalist who recently wrote a book about Skripal, wrote in The Times on Oct. 9, 2018: “It would be surprising if this series of compromised operations did not trigger some realignment in Moscow, a further round of struggle between the spy bosses.
“The mockery of the GRU for its recent upsets, both globally and on Russian social media, must have rankled. Whatever the intentions of the Salisbury operation, they cannot have included opening decorated heroes of the agency up for ridicule,” Urban added, referring to Chepiga and Mishkin.
When asked how he viewed Russia’s latest aggressions, Mattis said, “Attempted murder of a man and his daughter, how’s that for starters,” referring to the poisoning of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and Skripal’s daughter, Yulia, in Britain. The two remain hospitalized.
Several countries have kicked out Russian diplomats over the attack.”The brazen and criminal attack was an attack on all of us,” Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull said March 27, 2018, after expelling two Russian diplomats from his country.
Russia has denied any wrongdoing.
Mattis suggested on March 27, 2018, that he is not convinced: “They point out that it can’t be proven who had tried to kill the person in Salisbury,” Mattis said. “They’re doing things they believe are deniable.”
“They take insignia off soldiers’ uniforms and they go into Crimea,” Mattis continued. “They say they have nothing to do with what’s going on with the separatists in eastern Ukraine; I’m not sure how they can say that with a straight face.”
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, triggering a military conflict with Ukraine and economic sanctions from the European Union and the US. Russian President Vladimir Putin denies his troops were in the country, but analysts have long suspected Russian forces of disguising themselves with tactics that include removing identifiable markings from their uniforms.
The March 4, 2018, nerve-agent attack happened as Russia faces diplomatic pressures on multiple fronts, including from the US, where federal investigators are probing its meddling in elections that have stirred political and cultural discord among Americans.
Godzilla may be king of the monsters, but during the Cold War, he’d find the Caspian Sea a little crowded.
Now, Russia is building a new Caspian Sea Monster.
According to a tweet by the Russian embassy in South Africa, the Chaika A-050 is slated to enter service by 2020. The A-050 is what is known as an “ekranoplan,” or ground-effect vehicle. The Soviet Union pushed these airplane hybrids during the Cold War, largely because they offered a unique mix of the capabilities of ships and aircraft.
According to militaryfactory.com, the Lun-class ekranoplan is one such example. It had a top speed of 342 miles per hour — slightly slower than the B-29 Superfortress — which could go 358 miles per hour. However, the Lun carried six SS-N-22 Sunburn anti-ship missiles, which are limited for use on surface combatants like the Sovremenny-class destroyer and Tarantul-class missile boat. The Lun could climb to as high as 24,000 feet.
According to a 2015 report by Valuewalk.com, the Chaika A-050 will travel at speeds of up to 300 miles per hour, with a range of 3,000 miles. It will be able to carry at least nine tons of cargo or 100 passengers. However, a Sputnik News report indicated that the Russians could install the BrahMos missile on the new ekranoplan.
The BrahMos is a version of the SS-N-26 Oniks surface-to-surface missile that has been installed on a number of Indian Navy vessels. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the BrahMos has a top speed of Mach 2.8 and a range of 500 kilometers. The missile carries a 300-kilogram warhead, and can hit surface ships or land targets. The missile can be used by submarines and surface ships.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new transnational organized-crime task force on Oct. 15, 2018, furthering a crackdown on crime that he said has been a Trump administration priority since Day 1.
“The same day I was sworn in as attorney general, President Trump ordered me to disrupt and dismantle these groups,” Sessions said in remarks delivered in Washington, DC.
The Justice Department, following Trump’s lead, has intensified its efforts against the transnational gang MS-13, which started in the US and is now based in Central America. Sessions designated the group a priority for the department’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, which he said had been able to hit it “from all angles.”
Sessions directed that task force, as well as Justice Department officials, the FBI, and the Drug Enforcement Administration to name the top transnational criminal groups threatening the US. Subcommittees within the new task force will focus on the five groups named by those officials.
“I have ordered each of these subcommittees to provide me with specific recommendations within 90 days on the best ways to prosecute these groups and ultimately take them off of our streets,” Sessions said.
Below, you can see the five groups on which the Justice Department’s new task force will focus.
The gang started among migrants from Central America, El Salvador in particular, who fled civil wars in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of them ended up in Southern California, where, without family networks or other connections, they gravitated toward gangs.
Deportations returned many members to their home countries in the 1990s and 2000s, where the gang blossomed in the post-conflict environment.
The gang’s influence has since spread throughout the region, including to the US, where it often carries out extortion, robberies, and other crimes in areas with large migrant communities, like the Washington, DC, suburbs or Suffolk County on Long Island.
Though MS-13 members have committed particularly heinous crimes, experts have said the Trump administration misunderstands the reach and power the gang.
“Our research found that MS-13 is hardly a lucrative network of criminal masterminds,” Steven Dudley, a senior fellow at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University, wrote in early 2018. “Instead, it is a loose coalition of young, often formerly incarcerated men operating hand to mouth across a vast geographic territory.”
The Jalisco New Generation cartel, or CJNG
The Mexican organized-crime group CJNG is the youngest group on the list compiled by the Justice Department. It is believed to have sprung from one faction of the Sinaloa cartel, which is also on the list, around 2010.
Based in the southwest state of Jalisco, the CJNG has grown rapidly since then, expanding throughout the country. It often violently forces out competitors and has corrupted numerous law-enforcement officials.
It has focused on synthetic drugs like crystal meth, and it has helped push up homicide rates along Mexico’s Pacific coast, fighting for control of ports needed to bring in precursor chemicals needed to make those drugs. The CJNG has expanded into other criminal enterprises; in some parts of Mexico it is believed to be fighting for a piece of the lucrative oil-theft trade.
Perhaps the group’s most high-profile crime was shooting down a Mexican army helicopter over Jalisco in May 2015. The shoot-down killed six soldiers, who were among 15 people killed in wave of violence in the state that day. (Mexican authorities said in 2018 they caught the suspects responsible for bringing down the helicopter.)
In the years since, the CJNG and its leader, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, aka “El Mencho,” have become high-profile targets. The capture of a number of CJNG financial operators, including the wife of “El Mencho,” in recent years likely indicates Mexican authorities are trying to go after the gang’s money. (Though the wife was released on bail in September 2018.)
The group also appears to be facing competition at home. A group called the Nueva Plaza cartel, believed to be led by a one-time confidant of Oseguera, is thought to be challenging it on its home turf in Guadalajara, with backing from groups like the Sinaloa cartel.
Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is escorted by soldiers in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, as he is extradited to New York, January 19, 2017.
(Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office)
The Sinaloa cartel
Over the past two decades, the Sinaloa cartel has risen to the top of Mexico’s narco hierarchy, operating throughout the country and around the world, linking coca fields in South America and drug labs in Mexico to consumers in the US, Europe, and parts of Asia.
Formed in the western state of the same name, the Sinaloa cartel emerged in the 1990s, after the breakup of the powerful Guadalajara cartel. Led by cartel chief Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the Sinaloa cartel muscled rivals out of valuable territories, including cities bordering the US.
In the process, the cartel helped stoke dizzying bloodshed in Mexico, making its cities some of the most violent in the world.
The cartel’s outlook has been cloudy since Guzman’s January 2016 arrest, which came about six months after he broke out of jail for the second time. Rumors of a looming third breakout appeared to be snuffed out in January 2017, when Mexican officials whisked him to New York and turned him over to the US.
Since then, the Sinaloa cartel appeared ready to crack up. Guzman’s sons and presumed heirs to the cartel were kidnapped by rivals in late 2016, and in early 2017 they were challenged by Guzman’s former right-hand man and his son.
But Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, a shadowy cartel chieftain who helped form the group with Guzman and is backing Guzman’s sons, appears to have reestablished some of the cartel’s “cohesion” and avoided a major fracture.
The Sinaloa cartel is better understood as an alliance of factions rather than a hierarchical cartel — a organizational structure that is believed to give it some resiliency in the face of law-enforcement pressure.
The Gulf clan, or the Gulf cartel, was long one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal groups moving cocaine from South America to the US and meting out shocking violence along the way.
Gulf cartel’s formation can be traced to the mid-1980s in northeast Mexico, where criminal elements and officialdom have long intertwined. Around that time, it began cutting deals with Colombian traffickers and soon vaulted from a relatively small-time marijuana and heroin business to a billion-dollar cocaine smuggling operation.
The cartel also corrupted government officials, federal and local police forces, and attorneys general. In the late 1990s, it also began developing a military wing, recruiting former Mexican special-forces soldiers to help form a group of enforcers known as the Zetas.
The Gulf cartel and the Zetas began to split in the late 2000s, sparking inter- and intra-cartel fighting that still makes northeast Mexico one of the country’s most violent regions.
In recent years, the Gulf cartel has “lost strength and has experienced rapid turnover in leadership,” the DEA said in its 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment. But the group remains influential in northeast Mexico, moving drugs into South Texas and controlling distribution hubs in US cities like Houston and Atlanta.
Hezbollah posters in the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon War.
Hezbollah, or the “Party of God,” is the only group on the Justice Department’s list with its origins outside the Western Hemisphere.
It emerged after Israel’s 1982 invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon, which came amid a civil war in the latter country that ran from 1975 to 1990.
A Shiite Muslim political party and militant group, Hezbollah receives significant support from Iran and has fought with Iran in Syria to support that country’s dictator, Bashar Assad.
That campaign has improved Hezbollah’s operational capabilities and added to its weapons stockpiles, now believed to include weapons like guided missiles, armed drones, and anti-tank missiles.
Israel has launched strikes in Syria to deter Iran and Hezbollah and has increased its readiness to counter Hezbollah and Iranian action there. Hezbollah’s growing role in Lebanon and its expanding military capabilities have led experts to warn a future war between it and Israel could be bigger and more violent that the 2006 Lebanon War.
The US, which considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization, has pushed Lebanon to cut Hezbollah’s access to its financial sector.
The group has also been active in the US and the Western Hemisphere for some time, though its focus there is believed to be on money laundering.
People in the region with links to the group are almost all considered not to be active members but rather “associates,” though at least one man has been accused of conducting surveillance in the US in support of potential Hezbollah attacks.
The US has also accused numerous Venezuelan officials of links to Hezbollah, including through an alleged black-market scheme to sell passports. Though some intelligence officials have said those allegations are overstated.
Hezbollah-linked actors in the region’s “activities have largely been involved in logistics support, providing funds back to Lebanon to Hezbollah itself,” Adm. Kurt Tidd, the former head of US Southern Command, told the Senate in early 2016.
The threat to the US
“Transnational Criminal Organizations — whether they are gangs, drug trafficking cartels or terrorist groups — are a scourge,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who will lead the new task force, said alongside Sessions on Oct. 15, 2018. “They sow violence and sell poisonous drugs. They bribe public officials and fuel corruption. They terrorize law-abiding citizens.”
While the groups named are responsible for violence and criminal activity in the US and the region, experts have differed with the Trump administration’s assessment of them.
While the gang’s members have committed heinous acts in the US, their crimes mostly target immigrant communities. Though the group’s members in the US have contact with leaders in Central America, the organization itself is decentralized and largely involved in crimes like extortion, drug possession, and homicide, as it isn’t powerful or organized enough for transnational drug-trafficking.
“The cartels use gang members. They use individuals that are living here in the United States to basically do the distribution and the logistics here in the United States,” Mike Vigil, former director of international operations for the DEA, told Business Insider in 2017.
Even as violence in Mexican border cities has risen over the past decade, violence in US cities next to them has been below-average. And incidents of cartel-related violence in the US have usually been limited to people with ties to the cartels (though there have been cases of mistaken identity).
Hezbollah is also active in the US, but it appears largely focused on fraud and money laundering. Throughout the region, the group’s activities appear limited to financial and logistical support for the organization based in Lebanon.
Intelligence officials have also disputed assertions by US politicians that the Venezuelan government is collaborating with Hezbollah and other militant groups.
“The whole Hezbollah line has been distorted for political purposes by the more extreme elements of the US right wing,” a former CIA senior official told Reuters in early 2018.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.