Arrested Tajiks highlight fears of terror attack on US

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 15th June 2024.

The recent arrest of eight Tajik nationals believed to have connections to ISIS has heightened concerns among US national security officials that a dangerous affiliate of the now-splintered terror group could potentially carry out an attack on US soil, according to multiple US officials who spoke to CNN.

Members of the group initially entered the US at the southern border and requested asylum under US immigration law. It’s unclear whether they entered at the same time and place. By the time intelligence collected on overseas ISIS targets connected the men to the terror group, they had already been vetted by immigration authorities and allowed into the country, officials said.

Though there is no hard evidence indicating they were sent to the US as part of a terror plot, at least some of the Tajik nationals had expressed extremist rhetoric in their communications, either on social media or in direct private communications that US intelligence was able to monitor, three officials said. That discovery set off a flurry of emergency investigative efforts by federal agents and analysts across the country, sources said, including physical and electronic surveillance of the men – a counter-terrorism operation reminiscent of the years immediately following 9/11, when the FBI investigated numerous homegrown plots.

After a period of surveillance, federal officials in recent days faced a difficult decision: whether to continue investigating the men to determine whether they were part of any potential plot or wider terrorist network, or to move in and take them off the street. Rather than risk the worst-case scenario of a potential attack, senior US officials decided to move in and have the men apprehended by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, one source told CNN. The men remain in federal custody on immigration charges and will eventually be deported following the counter-terror investigation into them.

EU agrees on starting membership talks with Ukraine, Moldova

European Union ambassadors agreed on Friday to formally start accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, according to the Belgian EU Presidency.

Ukraine applied to join the EU shortly after the start of Russia’s invasion in February 2022. It and neighbouring Moldova were granted candidate status four months later.

“Ambassadors agreed in principle on the negotiating frameworks for the accession negotiations of Ukraine and Moldova,” the Belgian Presidency said in a post. It said that the first inter-governmental conferences will take place on 25th June. Belgium holds the EU Council of Ministers’ rotating presidency until 30th June.

Charles Michel, President of the European Council, welcomed the agreement in a post on X. “We keep our promises, and we will support you along the way to membership,” he said. The European Council, which is made up of the leaders of member states, is a separate body from the Council of Ministers, which is a legislative body.

It comes a week after the European Commission said that both Kyiv and Chisinau meet all the criteria for the formal start of accession negotiations. The criteria included efforts to curb the power of oligarchs and better ensure the rights of ethnic minorities.

The start of negotiations must be agreed upon by all 27 EU member states. Candidate countries are likely to face years of reforms before they meet the criteria for EU admission.

After Belgium, Hungary is next to take on the Council of the European Union’s rotating presidency. Budapest has in the past objected to EU aid to Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion and has said that it has doubts about the European Commission’s assessment that Kyiv is ready for accession talks.

G-7 leaders tackle migration, AI, abortion in their Italy summit

The Group of 7 leading industrialised nations turned their attention to migration, artificial intelligence, economic security and the Indo-Pacific region on Friday, the second and final day of their summit in Italy. The G-7 leaders stressed their determination to meet global challenges “at a crucial moment in history”.

They also discussed financial support for Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, climate change, Iran, the situation in the Red Sea, gender equality and China’s industrial policy and economic security.

“We are working together and with others to address the pressing challenges of our time,” the G-7 leaders said in a final communique, noting their solidarity with Ukraine, support for a deal that would lead to an immediate cease-fire and release of hostages in Gaza, investment in sustainable infrastructure in Africa and commitments to address climate change and migration. The G-7 nations are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Divisions emerged during the summit, however, over the lack of a reference to abortion in the summit’s final declaration. Italian right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, as host of the summit, prevented the group of industrialised democracies from reaffirming a clear commitment to the right to abortion in their final declaration, dpa has learned from diplomatic sources. The declaration, traditionally issued on the summit’s last day, only said that women have the right to “adequate, affordable and quality health services”, including when it comes to sexual and reproductive care.

‘Peace if Ukraine stops NATO plans, gives up regions’ – Putin

President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Russia would cease fire and enter peace talks if Ukraine withdrew its forces from four regions claimed by Moscow. He also said Kyiv would need to relinquish any ambitions of joining NATO for peace to be achieved.

“Ukrainian troops must be completely withdrawn from the Donetsk People’s Republic, the Luhansk People’s Republic, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions,” Putin said. Russia annexed the regions in September 2022.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, called Putin’s suggestions “offensive to common sense”. He said the proposal was not a serious attempt to agree on peace and was irrelevant to any negotiations.

Putin’s remarks came on the eve of a peace conference in Switzerland to which Russia has not been invited. US Vice President Kamala Harris will attend the summit, where she will meet with President Zelensky and address world leaders. She will stress that the outcome of the war with Russia affects the entire world, a US official said, and push for a maximum number of countries to back the notion that Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is a violation of the UN Charter’s founding principles and that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected.

Israel estimates operation in Rafah to end in no more than 2 weeks

Israeli security officials estimated that the army’s military operation in Rafah will end in two weeks, media reports said Friday. Public broadcaster KAN quoted senior security officials who estimated that the operation in the southern Gaza Strip will not take more than two weeks to be concluded.

KAN quoted the unnamed officials as saying if no agreement on a cease-fire with the Palestinians is reached before ending the operation in Rafah, the political level must decide the next steps in Gaza. They added that the Israeli war on Gaza is close to the end of its second phase, and there is the need to take new steps, otherwise the military operation will turn from success to failure.

On May 6, the Israeli army invaded Rafah, a tiny city at the southern tip of Gaza despite international warnings. It also captured the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing, a vital route to humanitarian aid into Gaza, worsening the already-difficult humanitarian conditions in the territory.

The security officials noted that the army will keep control after ending the military operation in Gaza over the Netzarim Corridor area, established by the Israeli army in central Gaza to separate northern Gaza from the southern parts, and over the Rafah crossing and the Philadelphi Corridor area – a demilitarized buffer zone running along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

Early Friday, Israeli Channel 12 reported that the army recommended ending its military offensive in Rafah and heading toward an “operation in the north” in reference to Lebanon.

Israel has faced international condemnation amid its continued offensive on Gaza. Nearly 37,300 Palestinians have since been killed in Gaza, most of them women and children, and more than 85,000 others injured, according to local health authorities.

US sanctions Israeli group for attacking Gaza aid convoys

The United States has imposed sanctions on a “violent extremist” Israeli group for blocking and damaging humanitarian aid convoys to Gaza as the risk of famine increases in the besieged Palestinian territory. President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday targeted Tzav 9, a group whose stated aim is to prevent any assistance from entering Gaza. It accused the group of looting and setting fire to aid trucks.

The sanctions were announced a day after Israeli media outlets quoted Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai as saying far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir pushed to prevent law enforcement from protecting aid convoys to Gaza. For months, right-wing Israelis have been protesting and blocking roads to prevent aid shipments from reaching Gaza, which is under a suffocating Israeli blockade. The efforts have further strained the flow of desperately-needed aid to the territory.

Cyril Ramaphosa reelected as South African President

Cyril Ramaphosa was re-elected president during the first sitting of South Africa’s newly-elected parliament late on Friday. He was reelected with the support of several opposition parties that will form a government of national unity with Ramaphosa’s African National Congress (ANC).

The ANC, which came to power in 1994 after the end of Apartheid in South Africa, lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in the recent elections. With only 159 out of the 400 seats in the National Assembly, the party had to rely on the Democratic Alliance (DA), which secured 87 seats, to elect Ramaphosa.

Several other parties, including the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and Patriotic Alliance (PA) will also be part of the government of national unity.

Princess of Wales issues health update: ‘Good days and bad’

The Princess of Wales has said she has “good days and bad days” during her treatment for cancer as she announced she would be attending the Trooping the Colour parade today, Saturday. Kensington Palace released a statement from Kate and an accompanying photo of the princess, confirming her attendance at the event and providing an update on her health.

The Trooping the Colour parade will be Kate’s first official public appearance since she revealed in March that she was undergoing cancer treatment, although she said that she has begun to work from home, undertaking meetings with her foundation and Kensington Palace team.

“I’m looking forward to attending The King’s Birthday Parade this weekend with my family and hope to join a few public engagements over the summer, but equally knowing I am not out of the woods yet,” Kate said in the statement.

Pope hosts comedians in Vatican

Before flying to Italy’s southern Puglia region to meet world leaders at the G7 summit, Pope Francis hosted a very different audience at the Vatican on Friday celebrating the importance of humour. The pontiff welcomed more than 100 comedians from 15 nations, including celebrities Whoopi Goldberg, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Rock, Stephen Colbert and Conan O’Brien.

“In the midst of so much gloomy news, immersed as we are in many social and even personal emergencies, you have the power to spread peace and smiles,” Francis told the comedians. “You unite people, because laughter is contagious,” he continued, asking jokingly, “Please pray for me: for, not against!”

Francis pointed out that in the creation, “Divine wisdom practiced your art for the benefit of none other than God himself, the first spectator in history,” with God delighting in the works that he had made. “Remember this,” he added. “When you manage to bring intelligent smiles to the lips of even a single spectator, you also make God smile.” Francis also said it was OK to “laugh at God” in the same way “we play and joke with the people we love”.

Support for Türkiye’s entry into the Brics

Turkish President Recep Erdogan has asked his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for support for Ankara’s request to join the Brics, the bloc of countries originally formed by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and which last year was joined by Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran. This emerges from a note from the Brazilian government, published at the end of the bilateral meeting between the two held Friday on the sidelines of the G7, where it is also specified that Lula declared that he wanted to support the Turkish request and that he intends to visit the country located in the region that connects Europe to the Middle East.

Erdogan confirmed on his part that he will be in Brazil for the G20 summit, on November 18 and 19, in Rio de Janeiro.

Euro 2024: Hosts Germany thrash Scotland 5-1 in opener

Hosts Germany opened their Euro 2024 journey last night on a terrific note thrashing Scotland 5-1 in the opening match. The Scots, reduced to 10 men in the game, haven’t played a European Championship match abroad since 1992. It took only 10 minutes for the German machine to get to work when Joshua Kimmich picked up a long pass from Toni Kroos and centred for Florian Wirtz who converted.

The opener had been coming after early warning signs from the first minute when Gunn closed down on a loose ball with Wirtz in the running. The offside call could not have come better at the time.

Finding himself alone and in space, Wirtz’s first-time shot from near the edge of the box was too much for Scottish goalie Angus Gunn to handle, whose only push was against the post to roll the ball into the net.

Germany doubled in the 19th minute with Jamal Musiala’s magnificent finish from a shot in the distance.

With the Tartan army sitting deeper and soaking the pressure, the match seemed more like damage control for Scotland. Things then went from bad to worse for Scotland after Porteous was sent off for a foul against Ilkay Gundogan and Havertz converted from the spot to bring the score to 3-0. Substitute Niclas Fuellkrug scored a fourth late in the second half.

Scotland managed a goal after Antonio Rudiger scored an own goal before Emre Can fired home a fifth for Germany.

Today, Hungary faces Switzerland in Cologne (15:00 – Group A); Spain faces Croatia in Berlin (18:00 – Group B), and Italy faces Albania in Dortmund (21:00 – Group B) on day two of the group stage of the competition.

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