Geopolitics

ISIS Nears Baghdad, Hong Kong Protests, Potato Salad Party

Hong Kong protesters
Hong Kong protesters
http://instagram.com/rachelwongny

ISIS CLOSING ON BAGHDAD
ISIS fighters are close to entering the Iraqi capital of Baghdad despite U.S. airstrikes in the area, with the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East saying that they are “less than two kilometers away,” The Independent reports. The newspaper also notes that ISIS and the al-Nusra front are working together in “a loose coalition” to fight attacks from the U.S.-led operation.

In an interview with CBS, President Barack Obama said that Washington had both underestimated the strength of ISIS and overestimated the capacity of the U.S.-trained Iraqi army to fight the terrorist group.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and its allies have continued targeting ISIS positions in northern and eastern Syria, including the country’s largest gas plant, The Washington Post reports. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the strikes also hit grain silos, killing civilians. Read more from Reuters.

HONG KONG PROTESTS SPREAD
Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong are still occupying the streets after yesterday’s intervention by riot police, who arrested many demonstrators but failed to disperse the crowds despite firing tear gas. To protect themselves, the thousands of protesters, most of them students, are wielding umbrellas, leading some to describe the expanding rallies against China’s decision to limit democratic reform in Hong Kong the “Umbrella revolution.”

“We’ve never seen anything like this, never imagined it,” said protester Kevin Chan, a 48-year-old factory manager said.

For more, check out this Worldcrunch piece, The View From Instagram: Hong Kong's Democracy Protests.

NEW FIGHTING IN UKRAINE
Despite a ceasefire, three civilians were killed and another five wounded in the rebel-held city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, as city authorities described a “tense” situation with artillery fire throughout the night, AFP reports. A military spokesman told Reuters that a shell fired by pro-Russians killed seven Ukrainian soldiers near the Donetsk airport, where fighting has scarcely stopped since the ceasefire was signed. This comes after rebel forces uncovered a fourth mass grave this weekend in areas previously controlled by the Ukrainian army.

280 MILLION
After two weeks of grounded flights, Air France pilots finally called off their strike yesterday, but not before costing the airline more than 280 million euros ($355 million) in revenue, or about 20 million euros for each day of deadlock.

AFGHANISTAN’S GHANI SWORN IN
Ashraf Ghani has been sworn is as the new president of Afghanistan in the country’s first democratic transition. The ceremony was preceded by a suicide bomb explosion near the Kabul airport, which Reuters reports left many dead and wounded. Ghani vowed to work for peace and to put an end to corruption, but the BBC explains that his government’s first task will be to sign a deal allowing U.S. troops to remain in the country after the end of the year, a move that Ghani’s predecessor Hamid Karzai opposed.

SEARCH HALTED AT JAPANESE VOLCANO
The estimated death toll of a massive volcanic eruption in Japan Saturday reached 36 this morning after five more bodies were found on the slopes of Mount Ontake, The Japan Times reports. Twenty-four bodies still remain on the mountain where the eruption continues, but toxic gases and ash have forced authorities to suspend the recovery operation. But a government spokesman said that the eruption would not affect the restart of a nuclear power plant in a different volcanically active area.

EU PREPARES RECORD APPLE FINE
The European Union is expected to impose a “record fine of as much as several billions of euros” against Apple, the world’s richest company, for taking illegal aid from the Irish state for more than two decades. The company struck a deal with authorities to pay less than 2% in taxes in exchange for jobs, according to the Financial Times.

POTATO SALAD PARTY
The man behind the $55,000 Kickstarter campaign for a potato salad threw a huge public party over the weekend — with 3,000 pounds of potatoes. The rest of the money will be used to support charities fighting hunger and homelessness.

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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