U.S. threatens Syria, says Assad is planning chemical weapons attack

FILE PHOTO: Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Croatian newspaper Vecernji List in Damascus, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on April 6, 2017. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

By Jeff Mason and John Walcott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday that he and his military would “pay a heavy price” if it conducted a chemical weapons attack and said the United States had reason to believe such preparations were underway.

The White House said in a statement released late on Monday the preparations by Syria were similar to those undertaken before an April 4 chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians and prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to order a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base.

“The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

“If … Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price,” he said.

White House officials did not respond to requests for comment on potential U.S. plans or the intelligence that prompted the statement about Syria’s preparations for an attack.

Trump, who took to Twitter not long after the statement went out, focused his attention on a Fox News report related to former President Barack Obama and the 2016 election rather than developments in Syria.

Trump ordered the strike on the Shayrat airfield in Syria in April in reaction to what Washington said was a poison gas attack by Assad’s government that killed 87 people in rebel-held territory. Syria denied it carried out the attack.

Assad said in an interview with the AFP news agency earlier this year that the alleged April attack was “100 percent fabrication” used to justify a U.S. air strike.

The strike was the toughest direct U.S. action yet in Syria’s six-year-old civil war, raising the risk of confrontation with Russia and Iran, Assad’s two main military backers.


U.S. and allied intelligence officers had for some time identified several sites where they suspected the Assad government may have been hiding newly made chemical weapons from inspectors, said one U.S. official familiar with the intelligence.

The assessment was based in part on the locations, security surrounding the suspect sites and other information which the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to describe.

The White House warning, the official said, was based on new reports of what was described as abnormal activity that might be associated with preparations for a chemical attack.

Although the intelligence was not considered conclusive, the administration quickly decided to issue the public warning to the Assad regime about the consequences of another chemical attack on civilians in an attempt to deter such a strike, said the official, who declined to discuss the issue further.

At the time of the April strike, U.S. officials called the intervention a “one-off” intended to deter future chemical weapons attacks and not an expansion of the U.S. role in the Syrian war.

The United States has taken a series of actions over the past three months demonstrating its willingness to carry out strikes, mostly in self-defense, against Syrian government forces and their backers, including Iran.

The United States ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Twitter: “Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia and Iran who support him killing his own people.”

Washington has repeatedly struck Iranian-backed militia and even shot down a drone threatening U.S.-led coalition forces since the April military strike. The U.S. military also shot down a Syrian jet earlier this month.

Trump has also ordered stepped-up military operations against the Islamic State militant group and delegated more authority to his generals.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and John Walcott; Additional reporting by Eric Beech, Patricia Zengerle, and Michelle Nichols; Writing by Yara Bayoumy and Jeff Mason; Editing by Paul Tait)

In Texas legislature, tempers flare over immigration crackdown

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – Tensions between Republicans and Democrats boiled over on the floor of the Texas Legislature on Monday as protesters filled the gallery on the last day of the session to denounce a new law cracking down on cities giving sanctuary to illegal immigrants.

With the state House of Representatives in Austin preparing to adjourn, a bystander’s video showed one lawmaker appearing to shove a colleague as about a dozen others rushed together in an angry clutch before tempers cooled and the two sides separated.

Afterward, one of the legislators at the center of the confrontation said in a statement on Facebook that he was physically assaulted by a Democratic colleague while a second Democrat threatened his life.

Republican Matt Rinaldi’s statement said this occurred after he told Democratic lawmakers that he had tipped off federal agents about defiant protesters who were holding signs declaring their illegal immigration status.

Rinaldi did not immediately return calls or emails seeking further comment.

The incident highlights the raw emotions stirred by Republican efforts to put Texas in line with the priority that President Donald Trump has given to combating illegal immigration. Democrats, mostly representing urban centers that have defied federal policy, have condemned the crackdown.

Texas, which has an estimated 1.5 million illegal immigrants and the longest border with Mexico of any U.S. state, has been at the forefront of the immigration debate.

A bill, which both chambers of the Republican-dominated legislature approved on party-line votes and Governor Greg Abbott signed into law on May 7, aims to punish local authorities who fail to honor requests to turn over suspected illegal immigrants to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

It also allows police to ask people about their immigration status during a lawful detention, even for minor infractions like jay-walking.

Democrats have warned that the Texas law could lead to unconstitutional racial profiling. Civil rights groups have promised to fight it in court.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Editing by Frank McGurty and Dan Grebler)

North Korea’s show of force

People carry flags in front of statues of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung (L) and late leader Kim Jong Il during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

(Reuters) – North Korea’s latest display of its military hardware at a parade last week focused more on new missiles and less on tanks and artillery, suggesting it was trying to project the image of a country with advanced capabilities in warfare.

The Reuters graphics team has analyzed the weapons shown during the five major parades staged in North Korea under its current leader Kim Jong Un, who took power in 2011 after the death of his father.

Here is a link to the interactive graphic (http://tmsnrt.rs/2ox2IgH)

The analysis shows there has been a gradual decline in tanks and artillery pieces on display since 2012, Kim Jong Un’s first parade as leader, and a move to more long-range missiles.

“This shift might indicate North Korea wants to redefine the outside world’s perception of its military capabilities from masses of troops and tanks to more advanced weapon systems,” said David Schmerler, a research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation.

Weapons analysts said they believed some of the missiles on display were new types of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The North has said it has developed and would launch a missile that can strike the mainland United States but officials and experts believe it is some time away from mastering all the necessary technology.

(Reporting by James Pearson, Writing by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

North Korea warns of ‘super-mighty preemptive strike’ as U.S. plans next move

A missile is fired from a naval vessel during the test-firing of a new type of anti-ship cruise missile to be equipped at Korean People's Army naval units. REUTERS/KCNA

By Ju-min Park

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean state media warned the United States of a “super-mighty preemptive strike” after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States was looking at ways to bring pressure to bear on North Korea over its nuclear programme.

U.S. President Donald Trump has taken a hard line with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has rebuffed admonitions from sole major ally China and proceeded with nuclear and missile programmes in defiance of U.N. Security Council sanctions.

The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, did not mince its words.

“In the case of our super-mighty preemptive strike being launched, it will completely and immediately wipe out not only U.S. imperialists’ invasion forces in South Korea and its surrounding areas but the U.S. mainland and reduce them to ashes,” it said.

Reclusive North Korea regularly threatens to destroy Japan, South Korea and the United States and has shown no let-up in its belligerence after a failed missile test on Sunday, a day after putting on a huge display of missiles at a parade in Pyongyang.

“We’re reviewing all the status of North Korea, both in terms of state sponsorship of terrorism as well as the other ways in which we can bring pressure on the regime in Pyongyang to re-engage with us, but re-engage with us on a different footing than past talks have been held,” Tillerson told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, on a tour of Asian allies, has said repeatedly an “era of strategic patience” with North Korea is over.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said during a visit to London the military option must be part of the pressure brought to bear.

“Allowing this dictator to have that kind of power is not something that civilised nations can allow to happen,” he said in reference to Kim.

Ryan said he was encouraged by the results of efforts to work with China to reduce tension, but that it was unacceptable North Korea might be able to strike allies with nuclear weapons.

North and South Korea are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.


South Korea’s acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, at a meeting with top officials on Thursday, repeatedly called for the military and security ministries to maintain vigilance.

The defence ministry said U.S. and South Korean air forces were conducting an annual training exercise, codenamed Max Thunder, until April 28. North Korea routinely labels such exercises preparations for invasion.

“We are conducting a practical and more intensive exercise than ever,” South Korean pilot Colonel Lee Bum-chul told reporters. “Through this exercise, I am sure we can deter war and remove our enemy’s intention to provoke us.”

South Korean presidential candidates clashed on Wednesday night in a debate over the planned deployment in South Korea of a U.S.-supplied Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, which has angered China.

Frontrunner Moon Jae-in was criticized for leaving his options open before the May 9 election.

On Monday, Hwang and Pence reaffirmed their plans to go ahead with the THAAD, but the decision will be up to the next South Korean president. For its part, China says the system’s powerful radar is a threat to its security.

The North has said it has developed a missile that can strike the mainland United States, but officials and experts believe it is some time away from mastering the necessary technology, including miniaturising a nuclear warhead.


The United States and Russia clashed at the United Nations on Wednesday over a U.S.-drafted Security Council statement to condemn North Korea’s latest failed ballistic missile test.

Diplomats said China had agreed to the statement.

Such statements by the 15-member council have to be agreed by consensus.

Previous statements denouncing missile launches “welcomed efforts by council members, as well as other states, to facilitate a peaceful and comprehensive solution through dialogue”. The latest draft statement dropped “through dialogue” and Russia requested it be included again.

“When we requested to restore the agreed language that was of political importance and expressed commitment to continue to work on the draft … the U.S. delegation without providing any explanations cancelled the work on the draft,” the Russian U.N. mission said in a statement.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China believed in the Security Council maintaining unity.

“Speaking with one voice is extremely important to the Security Council appropriately responding to the relevant issue on the peninsula,” he told reporters.

There has been some confusion over the whereabouts of a U.S. aircraft carrier group after Trump said last week he had sent an “armada” as a warning to North Korea, even as the ships were still far from Korean waters.

The U.S. military’s Pacific Command explained that the USS Carl Vinson strike group first had to complete a shorter-than-planned period of training with Australia. It was now heading for the Western Pacific as ordered, it said.

China’s influential Global Times newspaper, which is published by the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official paper, wondered whether the misdirection was deliberate.

“The truth seems to be that the U.S. military and president jointly created fake news and it is without doubt a rare scandal in U.S. history, which will be bound to cripple Trump’s and U.S. dignity,” it said.

(This articled has been refiled with military clarification of pilot’s rank, paragraph 14)

(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in WASHINGTON, William James in LONDON, Michelle Nichols at the UNITED NATIONS, Idrees Ali in RIYADH, Ben Blanchard in BEIJING and Kim Do-gyun in GUNSAN, South Korea; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)

North Korean mock-up birthday video shows missiles blowing up U.S.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves to people cheering during an opening ceremony of a newly constructed residential complex in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

By Ju-min Park

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea put on a musical show to mark the birthday of founding father Kim Il Sung, which ended with a mock-up video of missiles engulfing the United States in flames, prompting cheers from the audience and smiles from current leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korea’s state television aired footage of a choral performance attended by Kim Jong Un, the elder Kim’s grandson, on Sunday, a day after a huge military parade in Pyongyang, which also marked the 105th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung.

The singing was followed by footage of its test-firing of a missile in February which, in the video, was joined by other missiles shooting into sky, passing over the Pacific and exploding in giant balls of flames in the United States.

The video ended with a picture of the American flag in flames, overlapping row after row of white crosses in a cemetery. (http://reut.tv/2orqo6d)

“When the performance was over, all the performers and participants in the military parade broke into enthusiastic cheers of ‘hurrah!’,” state run KCNA news agency said.

State TV footage showed leader Kim smiling and waving in return.

“The Dear Supreme Leader waved back to them and congratulated the artistes on their successful performance,” KCNA said.

North Korea said in February that it had successfully tested a new type of medium- to long-range ballistic missile, the Pukguksong-2, propelled by a solid-fuel engine.

During Saturday’s military parade it displayed what appeared to be new intercontinental ballistic missiles. And a day later it conducted a failed missile test, which drew international condemnation.

North Korea regularly threatens to destroy the United States and amid heightened tension on the Korean peninsula, it has escalated a war of words, warning of full-out nuclear war if Washington takes military action against it.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, on a trip to Asia, has repeatedly warned that the “era of strategic patience” with North Korea is over and on Wednesday said it would meet any attack with an “overwhelming response”.

(Editing by Nick Macfie & Simon Cameron-Moore)

Wisconsin man captured 10 days after manifesto sent to Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he walks from Marine One upon his return to the White House in Washington, U.S., April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTX34UUD

(Reuters) – A Wisconsin man accused of stealing an arsenal of weapons from a gun shop and sending an anti-government manifesto to President Donald Trump has been arrested after a massive manhunt, authorities said on Friday.

Joseph Jakubowski, 32, was taken into custody on Friday morning after being located overnight in Southwest Wisconsin, where he appeared to be camping in a rural area, the Rock County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

The weeks-long hunt for Jakubowski began after the April 4 break-in at Armageddon Supplies, a gun shop in the suspect’s hometown of Janesville, about 70 miles (113 km) southwest of Milwaukee, in Rock County. The theft netted 18 guns and two silencers, according to a criminal complaint filed in the Rock County Circuit Court.

A 161-page manifesto that Jakubowski sent to Trump criticized officials from all levels of government and contained “anti-religious views,” according to investigators on the case. A video posted to social media appears to show Jakubowski mailing the manifesto.

He was taken into custody without incident hours after a farmer called the Vernon County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday night to report a suspicious person on his property in Readstown, Wisconsin.

“He gave up peacefully. There was an overwhelming force there. I think he knew what he was facing,” Vernon County Sheriff John Spears said at a briefing, who said the suspect had been surrounded by 100 to 125 law enforcement officers.

Authorities were making arrangements to return him to Rock County to face charges. Jakubowski is charged with armed burglary, felony theft and possession of burglary tools, according to the complaint.

He previously served time in prison for trying to wrestle a gun away from a police officer.

His sister also found a letter he wrote before the break-in at the gun shop, explaining that he wanted to purchase weapons to protect himself and his family, but was barred from doing so because he is a convicted felon, according to court documents.

(Reporting By Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bernard Orr)

China paper says U.S., South Korea will ‘pay the price’ for planned missile system

THAAD missile system

BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States and South Korea are destined to “pay the price” for their decision to deploy an advanced missile defense system which will inevitably prompt a “counter attack”, China’s top newspaper said on Saturday.

Tension on the Korean peninsula has been high this year, beginning with North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January, which was followed by a satellite launch, a string of tests of various missiles, and its fifth and largest nuclear test last month.

In July, South Korea agreed with the United States to deploy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system to protect against any North Korean threats.

South Korea aims to deploy the system on a golf course, a defense ministry official said on Friday.

But the plan has angered China, which worries that THAAD’s powerful radar would compromise its security and do nothing to lower temperatures on the Korean peninsula.

In a commentary, the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said China’s opposition to THAAD would never change as it was a serious threat to the regional strategic security balance.

“Like any other country, China can neither be vague nor indifferent on security matters that affect its core interests,” the newspaper said in the commentary, published under the pen name “Zhong Sheng”, meaning “Voice of China”, often used to give views on foreign policy.

The United States and South Korea have to wake up to the fact that the Korean peninsula is no place to take risks, it added.

“If the United States and South Korea harm the strategic security interests of countries in the region including China, then they are destined to pay the price for this and receive a proper counter attack,” the paper added, without elaborating.


China has repeatedly promised to take specific steps to respond since the THAAD decision was announced, but has given no details about what it may do.

The United States and South Korea have said THAAD does not threaten China’s security or target any country other than North Korea.

China is North Korea’s most important diplomatic and economic partner, but Beijing has been infuriated by its nuclear and missile tests and has signed up for strong United Nations sanctions against North Korea.

However, China has continued to call for talks to resolve the North Korean issue and said sanctions are not the ultimate solution.

At a reception in Pyongyang on Friday for China’s National Day, Chinese Ambassador Li Jinjun said his country wanted to consolidate its friendship with North Korea, China’s Xinhua news agency said on Saturday.

The report made no mention of the nuclear issue.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

ISIS Claims Twin Suicide Attacks in Lebanon and Threatens Russia in Latest Video

ISIS claimed to launch one of the deadliest attacks in recent years in Lebanon Thursday evening, when a double suicide bombing killed at least 43 people and wounded over 200 others in a southern Beirut suburb.

ABC News reports that the suburb is a stronghold for Hezbollah, a militant Shiite group. ISIS has mostly been targeting Syria and Iraq and has not recognized any affiliate in Lebanon thus far. However, Lebanon has seen deadly situations due to the civil war in the neighboring country.

The bombs were detonated only minutes apart during rush hour in the Hezbollah stronghold. Ambulances rushed to the scene and Lebanese military, paired with Hezbollah gunmen, would not allow anyone to enter the area. Hezbollah has asked for people to disperse and leave public areas as well as be on the lookout for suspicious actions.

“There’s a lot of shattered glass on the street, a lot of blood, and it’s really just a scene of chaos and carnage,” journalist Tamara Qiblawi told CNN shortly after the blasts.

After the attack, ISIS members posted on various social media outlets that they carried out the attacks.

Hezbollah has been fighting alongside Syrian government forces led by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The suburb has been attacked in the past and Sunni militant groups continue to threaten the stronghold, according to ABC News.

Lebanese security officials told Fox News that the first attacker detonated the bomb inside a mosque then shortly after, the second attack was carried out in a bakery located nearby. A third attacker was found dead, close to the second explosion. His vest was still intact.

According to CNN, another would-be attacker who survived the bombing was found. Lebanese officials state that he was an ISIS recruit. He has been taken into custody and told authorities that he, and the other attackers arrived in Lebanon from Syria two days ago.

A national day of mourning was declared by Lebanon Prime Minister Tammam Salam. He called for Lebanon’s Parliament to stop their arguments and to begin functioning again. In fact, the government in Lebanon has been so disjointed that there is currently a trash crisis.

“I pray that this tragedy is enough to wake up politicians so that they can put their differences aside so we can protect the country,” Salam said in a statement, according to the Washington Post.

In addition to Thursday’s attacks, ISIS also released a new video on Thursday, threatening to attack Russia for revenge on the recent series of Russian airstrikes in Syria. The militant in the video stated in Russian: “Soon, very soon, the blood will spill like an ocean.”

Russian state security services are analyzing the video, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

“I do not know the authenticity of this video, I do not know the authenticity of these sources, but in any case no doubt this will be material for review by our special (security) services,” Peskov told journalists on a conference call, according to Business Insider.

USA Today reports another suicide bombing took place Friday at a Baghdad memorial service for a Shiite fighter. At least 22 have been reported dead and at least 43 are wounded. At this time, ISIS has not claimed responsibility for the attack, but they are well known for targeting large Shiite gatherings. The radical Sunni group believes that Shiites are apostates who have strayed from Islam.

ISIS Threatens U.S. In New Video

Islamic terrorist group ISIS has released a new propaganda video aimed at Americans saying there is “no safety” for any citizen and threatening to conduct a 9/11 style attack.

“America thinks it’s safe because of the geographical location,” the video states. “Thus you see it invades the Muslim lands, and it thinks that the army of the Jihad won’t reach in their lands. But the dream of the American to have safety became a mirage. Today there is no safety for any American on the globe. The mujahedeen before, although they had less resources, attacked New York and bombed the Twin Towers in September 11 attacks. That blessed incursion was a fatal blow. All praise is due to Allah, the American economy was shaken.”

In addition to the threats on America, the video features clips of ISIS attacks in the Middle East, the attack on Canada’s Parliament Hill and testimony of Amedy Coulibably, the French terrorist who was part of last year’s massacres.

ISIS burned down the homes of 10 Christian families in Nineveh on April 7th.  The group is also setting up traps to kill Christians when they enter their homes.

“Some of the houses in the village are burned. Some are bombed and destroyed. Some are robbed. We heard of one man who tried to enter his house and as soon as he opened the door, the house exploded,” a Christian man named Ayad said in a video interview with the World Council of Churches. “As ISIS forces leave, they are planting explosions inside the houses so that if people return they will be victims of the blast.”

Vatican Confirms ISIS Threat On Pope’s Life

The Vatican has confirmed that ISIS has threatened to kill Pope Francis but that so far they have not been able to find evidence of an imminent attack.

The Pope, meanwhile, has ramped up his criticism of the terrorist group, condemning the “intolerable brutality” of the group.

The terrorists released a video last week talking about conquering Rome, installing Shariah law and then throwing gays from the top of “the leaning power of pizza.”  

“The threat exists. This is what has emerged from my conversations with Italian and foreign colleagues,” said Domenico Giani, inspector general of the Corpo della Gendarmeria, Vatican City’s state police force.

The Pope has called on those around the world to do everything they can to show Christ’s love to the victims of the brutality of ISIS.  

The inspector general said Pope Francis has refused to change the way he deals with the public and refuses to cancel public appearances because of the ISIS threats.  

“Even as pope, he’s still a priest who doesn’t want to lose the contact with his flock. It’s us, those in charge of his safety, are the ones that have to help him, not the other way around,” Giani added.