Wave of ‘more dangerous, skilled’ ISIS jihadists bound to hit Europe – UN counterterrorism chief

Europe will have to come to grips with an exodus of “dangerous and disillusioned” Islamic State jihadists, defeated in Syria and Iraq earlier this year and possibly seeking revenge, the head of the UN Security Council's counterterrorism agency has warned.

Scores of foreign Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) fighters, determined to come back to Europe, are “more dangerous” than previous waves of returnees, Jean-Paul Laborde told reporters on Thursday. Some may be eager to seek revenge after defeats on the battlefield, including in recent confrontations in Mosul.

 
© Dado Ruvic

The first wave of the returnees was mainly made up of young people who went to Syria and Iraq “for T-shirts and photos,” Laborde said, RTBF reported. They came back “disillusioned and dismayed.” The second wave may contain much more extreme individuals, who had more time to build contacts with criminal organizations that can assist them in committing attacks.

Between 40 to 50 percent of foreign fighters, who left for Syria and Iraq, have already left territories controlled by IS, Laborde added.

“On average, these people are much more committed, more experienced and more skilled,” he told reporters, as cited by Reuters.

“In spite of the travel restrictions ... still you will have a number of foreign terrorist fighters which will probably slip through the borders and go back, come back to these countries, especially with smuggling networks,” he added.

Over the last 18 months, the flow of departures of fighters from Europe to Syria or Iraq fell by some 90 percent, the UN official said, calling for international cooperation not only between EU member states, but also between countries involved in armed conflicts and their neighbors.

Some 5,000 EU nationals are currently fighting in Syria among the ranks of IS and other jihadist groups, a senior Syrian official said last month, warning that it’ll be a disaster for European security if these militants are allowed to return.

 
© Eric Gaillard

“We have statistics that about five thousand terrorists fighting in Syria have come from the EU countries,” Syria's Deputy Minister of Expatriates and Foreign Affairs Ayman Susan told Sputnik in mid-April.

“Imagine that these 5,000 terrorists will return to Europe ... they can do it,” the diplomat warned.

IS provides free passage to Europe to refugees willing to join the terrorist group, offering potential recruits up to $1,000 while actively infiltrating migrant communities in countries of destination, a British anti-extremism think tank warned in February.

The report by Quilliam think tank also found that underage asylum seekers are at increasing risk of being radicalized by IS preachers infiltrating refugee camps and local migrant communities.

“Groups such as Islamic State and Boko Haram recruit using financial incentives within refugee camps and work with smugglers and traffickers to facilitate the journey to asylum,” Quilliam said.

According to the think tank, IS is clearly aware of the value of migrant routes in the Eastern Mediterranean as it offers free passage and “a degree of security” to those willing to join IS.

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Putin: I discussed de-escalation zones in Syria with Trump, Erdogan

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he has discussed introducing de-escalation zones in Syria with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during talks in Sochi on Wednesday and with US President Donald Trump in a phone call the previous day.

Consultations with Tehran and Damascus have also been held on the issue, Putin said.

"For the development of the political process [in Syria], a ceasefire must be provided... Russia, Turkey and Iran have all the time been thinking of how to secure this practice of a ceasefire. One of the methods is creating safe zones, or de-escalation zones," Putin said on Wednesday during a joint press conference with Turkish President Erdogan in Sochi.

Moscow has already conducted "preliminary consultations" with Damascus and Tehran on the matter, Putin said, adding that the issue has also been discussed with US President Trump, who appears to support the idea of safe zones.

"We all reason from [a position] that mechanisms to guarantee the end of bloodshed and provision for the beginning of a political dialogue must be created," the Russian president said, adding that Turkey also fully supports this position.

However, the different sides in the Syrian conflict should themselves make "the final decision," Putin added.

"In the end, only they are in charge of their country's fate. On our side, we – Russia, Turkey and Iran – as guarantors of a ceasefire, will make everything for such mechanisms to improve and be efficient," he told the media.

READ MORE: Putin, Trump speak by phone, discuss Syria, N. Korea – Kremlin

Moscow and Ankara both agree that "the creation of safe zones must lead to further conciliation and strengthening of the ceasefire regime" in war-torn Syria, Putin said.

The Russian president pointed out that regardless of safe zones, the fight will continue against terrorist organizations in Syria such as Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), Al-Nusra Front and other groups seen as terrorist by the United Nations.

The question of ceasefire monitoring in possible de-escalation zones is "an issue for separate talks," Putin added, saying that international military officials are in contact on the subject.

"In terms of air force flights, aviation will also not be deployed in de-escalation zones, on condition of no military activity there," the Russian president told journalists in Sochi.

The Turkish leader said that while he and the Russian president had discussed the issue of safe zones in Syria during their Sochi negotiations, it is the Astana peace talks participants who will work on the question. "I hope that a de-escalation zone will be implemented," Erdogan said.

The topic of de-escalation zones is especially related to the province of Idlib, where "many people from Aleppo have found refuge," the Turkish president pointed out.

READ MORE: Some trade restrictions between Russia and Turkey to remain for now – Putin

Having reiterated calls to stop the bloodshed of innocent people in Syria, the Turkish president said that both Moscow and Ankara back punishment for those behind an alleged chemical attack in the town of Khan Shaykhun in Syria's Idlib province.

"Such a barbaric attack must not be left unpunished," Erdogan said.

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Three blasts near Borussia Dortmund football team bus, club says bomb went off

A bomb went off near the bus of the German football team Borussia Dortmund as it prepared to leave the hotel for their home Champions League quarterfinal game, the team has said. Police have confirmed that three explosions occurred, but did not say what exactly caused them.

Bombenexplosion am Mannschaftsbus am Mannschaftshotel. Spieler in Sicherheit. Keine Gefahr im und am Stadion. Weitere Infos folgen.

The club said in a twitter post that there was “a bomb blast”  close to the team bus, adding that the team players are now “in safety” and “no threat is posed to the stadium,” where the quarterfinal was due to take place.

@polizei_nrw_do
Wir können bestätigen, dass es im Bereich des @BVB Mannschaftsbusses insgesamt drei Explosionen gegeben hat

“We can confirm that there were three explosions near the Borussia team bus,” police have announced. 

Large police forces have been deployed to the scene, the law enforcement added.

@BVB Thanks for your patience and understanding and the "Dortmund! Dortmund" chants, dear supporters of @AS_Monaco_EN!

The wheel rims of the bus were destroyed by the blast and one person was injured, police announced. 

The incident occurred around 19:00 (local time) (18:00 GMT) ahead of the team’s Champion League quarterfinal game against AS Monaco.

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US completely unwilling to cooperate on Syria & consider other interests – Kremlin

Actions of the US in Syria demonstrate a “complete unwillingness” to cooperate and take into account “interests and concerns” of the other actors in the region, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.

“The US side thus has demonstrated a complete unwillingness to somehow cooperate on Syria and take into account each others' interests and concerns,” Peskov said, while commenting on the suspension of the Memorandum on Air Safety in the aftermath of the US missile strike on Syrian military airfield overnight on Thursday.

 
FILE PHOTO © Carlos M. Vazquez

The memorandum has lost its merit after the incident, Peskov said.

While the technical means to exchange military data with the US remained, there would be no further info swap, he added.

The Memorandum of Understanding on Flight Safety was signed in October 2015, after Russia came to Syria to fight international terrorism at the invitation of the country’s government. It was designed to prevent possible incidents between the Russian and US Air Forces operating independently in the region.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to visit Moscow on April 11-12, although President Vladimir Putin does not have a meeting planned with him “so far,” according to Peskov. The only confirmed official contact with the Russian leadership on Tillerson’s agenda is with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“So far there is no meeting with Tillerson on the president’s schedule,” Peskov told reporters in a phone call. “We never announce such meetings, whether they will take place or not – we won’t announce it.”

The Kremlin spokesman assured reporters though that if there is such a plan, media would be “properly notified.”

While Tillerson’s visit is expected to take place as planned, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson cancelled his own trip to Russia, citing the need to “talk with G7 counterparts” over “developments in Syria.” The Russian Foreign Ministry called the explanation for the last-minute cancellation “absurd.”

Washington has been sending mixed messages over the past few days following the missile strike. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the US envoy to the UN, Nikki Hayley, have lately expressed somewhat contradictory views on Syria. While both of them named the fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) a “top priority,” Tillerson said that the future of Syria and President Bashar Assad should be decided by the country’s people. Hayley, however, said that ousting Assad is still among the top priorities for Washington.

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3 killed & many injured after truck drives into pedestrians, crashes into Stockholm dept store

Three people have been killed and many injured after a truck drove into pedestrians on a Stockholm street before crashing into a department store, police have confirmed. Authorities say they are treating the incident as a possible terrorist attack.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven says that all details indicate the incident was a “terrorist attack.” 

The suspect has been detained, Lofven told a news conference. However, Swedish police have said that no one has been arrested in connection with the attack, according to Reuters.

A witness by the name of Dimitris told Aftonbladet that he saw at least two people run over by the vehicle.

A separate witness told RT that he "saw at least three bodies that were covered with blankets and probably already dead." He added that he could see smoke and fire, calling the incident a "really awful situation." 

He went on to state that he was about to leave for lunch at the time of the attack, noting that "if I had been 15 seconds earlier I probably would have been dead right now..."

Swedish police have issued a warning to avoid Stockholm’s city center. All Stockholm subway services have been shut down, according to TT news agency.

The city's central train station has also been evacuated.

All Swedish government offices have been closed following the attack, and all ministers are safe, a source told Reuters.

Facebook has activated its safety check for people in the Stockholm area.

Footage posted on Twitter shows panicked pedestrians fleeing the scene.

“I saw hundreds of people run, they ran for their lives,” a witness by the name of Anna told the newspaper, adding that she also fled the scene.

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A worker at Åhlens department store said the truck drove into the store’s perfume department. He said an alarm went off inside the store and everyone was asked to leave the building, SVT reported.

A photo posted online shows the truck after it crashed into the department store, with the caption stating that the vehicle came from a direction in which trucks are not allowed.

Radio Sweden is also reporting that the truck caught fire after crashing into the department store. 

Helicopters are circling above the area, a witness told SVT.

@AmichaiStein1: Swedish police say a truck has driven into crowds injuring people on a main shopping street in central

The area has been cordoned off by police. Authorities were alerted at 2:53pm local time, according to SVT.

@franki_kuka : Crazy stuff in , people, https://www.pscp.tv

An employee at the nearby Stockholm Inn hotel told RT that hotel employees and guests are being “informed to stay in here because it's not over yet.” She added that she has not heard any shots fired.

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Swedish brewery Spendrups has reportedly said that one of its trucks was hijacked earlier on Friday.

The scene is near the site of a December 2010 attack which saw a man rig a car with explosives, in an effort to drive people to Drottninggatan - where the Friday incident took place. From there, he planned to set off devices strapped to his chest and back. The car bomb never went off, and the attacker died when one of his devices detonated. Two others were injured. 

The Friday incident comes less than three weeks after an attacker plowed a truck into pedestrians in London, killing four people. One police officer was also fatally stabbed by the attacker.

An attacker also smashed a truck through a Christmas market in Berlin in December, killing 12 people.

Last July, an attacker in Nice, France, plowed a truck into pedestrians during a Bastille Day celebration, killing 86 people.

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Putin: Terrorism among causes considered for St. Petersburg Metro blast

All possible causes for the explosion in the St. Petersburg Metro are being considered, including those linked to terrorism, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

“The causes of this event have not been determined yet, so it’s too early to talk about [possible causes]. The investigation will show. Certainly, we will consider all variants, common, criminal, first of all, of a terrorist nature,” he said.

Vladimir Putin is currently in St. Petersburg taking part in the All-Russia People’s Front media forum that opened on April 1.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied earlier media speculation that President Putin was due to pass by the Sennaya Metro station around the time of the blast.

The explosion happened between the Sennaya Ploshchad station and Tekhnologichesky Institut at around 2:40pm local time, Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee said.

READ MORE: Explosion in St. Petersburg Metro, several feared dead (GRAPHIC IMAGES)

The blast was caused by an unidentified explosive device, officials announced, adding that all metro stations in St. Petersburg have been closed.

The metro is “basically” fully evacuated, according to Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee.

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St Petersburg metro explosion kills several

The head of Russia's National Anti-Terrorist Committee said the blast hit the train between Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut stations.

The committee said an explosive device was later found and made safe at another station, Ploshchad Vosstaniya.

President Vladimir Putin said all causes, including terrorism, were being investigated.

Follow all the latest updates

Live updates in Russian

Initial reports suggested there had been two explosions, one at Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut stations.

A spokesman for St Petersburg's governor said at least 10 people had been killed and 50 injured. But minutes later, Russian National Anti-Terrorist Committee said the death toll was nine, with 20 hurt.

Andrei Przhezdomsky, the head of the committee, said the explosion at 14:40 local time (12:40 BST) was caused by "an unidentified explosive device" but that the exact cause had yet to be determined.

https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/640x360/p04yxz85.jpgEmergency services tend to the wounded outside a St Petersburg metro station

Map showing scene of explosion in St Petersburg - 3 April 2017

President Putin was in St Petersburg earlier on Monday but is now outside the city, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

"I have already spoken to the head of our special services, they are working to ascertain the cause," he said, at a meeting with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

In pictures: St Petersburg metro explosion

The entire St Petersburg underground network has now been shut down, and Moscow metro officials said they were introducing extra security measures as a result.

An iniured person walks outside Sennaya Ploshchad metro station, following explosions in two train carriages at metro stations in St Petersburg, Russia April 3, 2017Reuters / The entire metro network has now been shut down

Emergency vehicles and a helicopter are seen at the entrance to Tekhnologichesky Institut metro station in Saint Petersburg on April 3, 2017A helicopter landed on the street to transfer the injured to hospital    AFP/Getty Images

St Petersburg's metro system is the 19th busiest in the world, with more than two million passengers every day. It has not suffered attacks before.

However, several transport hubs in Russia have been attacked. In 2010 at least 38 people died in a double suicide bombing on the Moscow metro.

In 2009, a bomb exploded on a high speed train travelling between Moscow and St Petersburg, killing 27 and injuring another 130.

Both attacks were claimed by Islamist groups.

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Terrorist threat higher in Europe than anywhere else except war zones – EUCOM chief

The threat posed by violent extremism is higher in Europe than anywhere else in the world, apart from actual war zones and hotspots, US European Command head General Curtis Scaparrotti said, commenting on Wednesday’s terrorist attack in London.

“The number of threat streams that we have of this type within Europe – it’s probably higher in Europe than any other part of the globe, with the exception of the places we’re actually physically fighting [terrorists], like Syria […] Afghanistan and Iraq,” the senior US military leader in Europe, who is also NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

He said that Europe is faced with a “difficult challenge” posed by extremists.

 
©

Europe is challenged by both the flow of terrorists returning from Syria and other places. They’re challenged by an internal threat of those inspired by ISIS [Islamic State or IS] or directed by ISIS and this is another, an example of the attacks that we’ve seen in Europe in the past year. It’s a difficult challenge.”

On Wednesday five people, including the assailant, were killed in the attack in central London, after a car plowed into pedestrians near the British Parliament. Police identified the attacker as 52-year-old British citizen and Muslim convert Khalid Masood, born Adrian Russell Ajao. Eight more people were detained in connection with the case in raids at six different UK locations.
IS claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the terrorist group’s ‘news agency’ Amaq.

Scaparrotti expressed his condolences to those injured or killed in the tragedy, noting that the United States is ready to further support its NATO ally, the UK.

 
© Denis Balibouse

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to these victims and their families impacted by this senseless attack. We strongly condemn this attack, and will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our NATO ally, and our partners, to defeat terrorism,” he stated.

Asked by committee Chairman John McCain whether there is any “connection” between the increased European terrorism threat and the inflow of refugees from the globe’s hotspots, Scaparotti said he is particularly concerned by the criminal groups that smuggle asylum seekers into Europe illegally.

He stated that apart from people whose identities it is difficult to establish given the circumstances of their arrival into Europe, these groups “are more than willing to move equipment, personnel, weapons” to carry out terrorist plots.

Before reports of the London attack broke on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hosted a meeting of 68 nations of the global anti-IS coalition, aimed at finding ways to defeat the jihadists and reduce the spread of terrorism on a global scale.

READ MORE: Brussels district hosts 51 NGOs with suspected terrorist links – report

While stressing the importance of IS’ defeat, Tillerson warned against a possible spillover of the terrorist threat to other areas once the group is defeated in the Middle East.

“As we stabilize areas encompassing ISIS' phony physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, we also must prevent their seeds of hatred from taking root elsewhere,” he said, as cited by Military.com.

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