15 arrested in anti-terror sweep across Europe

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Updated 17 January 2015
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15 arrested in anti-terror sweep across Europe

BRUSSELS: More than two dozen suspects have been arrested in Belgium, France and Germany in continuing searches for suspected terrorists, authorities said Friday.
Thirteen people were detained in Belgium and two arrested in France in an anti-terror sweep following a firefight in which two suspected terrorists were killed, and more suspects are being sought, Belgian authorities said.
French and German authorities arrested at least 14 other people Friday suspected of links to the Islamic State group, and a Paris train station was evacuated, with Europe on alert for new potential terrorist attacks.
On Thursday, Belgian police moved in on a suspected terrorist hideout in the eastern city of Verviers, killing two suspects and wounding and arresting a third.
Eric Van der Sypt, a Belgian federal magistrate, said Friday the terrorists were within hours of implementing a plan to kill police on the street or in their offices.
More than a dozen searches had led to the discovery of four military-style weapons including Kalashnikov assault rifles, Van der Sypt told a news conference.
“I cannot confirm that we arrested everyone in this group,” he addeid.
Visiting a scarred Paris on Friday, US Secretary of State John Kerry met French President Francois Hollande and visited the sites of the city’s worst terrorist bloodshed in decades. Twenty people, including the three gunmen, were killed last week in attacks on a kosher supermarket and the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and on police.
Hollande thanked Kerry for offering France support, saying, “You’ve been victims yourself of an exceptional terrorist attack on Sept. 11. You know what it means for a country. ... We must find together appropriate responses.”
Paris is at its highest terrorism alert level, and police evacuated the Gare de l’Est train station Friday after a bomb threat. The station, one of several main stations in Paris, serves cities in eastern Paris and countries to the east.
The Paris prosecutor’s office, meanwhile, said at least 12 people were arrested in anti-terrorism raids in the region, targeting people linked to one of the French gunmen, Amedy Coulibaly, who claimed ties to the Islamic State group. Police officials earlier told The Associated Press that they were seeking up to eight to 10 potential accomplices.
In Berlin, police arrested two men Friday morning on suspicion of recruiting fighters for the Islamic State group in Syria.
Across Europe, anxiety has grown as the hunt continues for potential accomplices of the three Paris terrorists, and as authorities try to prevent attacks by the thousands of European extremists who have joined Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq.
Hollande said France is “waging war” against terrorism and will not back down from international military operations against Islamic extremists despite recent deadly attacks.
“It is not a war against religion, it’s a war against hate,” Hollande said in a speech to leading diplomats.
The Belgian raid on a former bakery was another palpable sign that terror had seeped deep into Europe’s heartland as security forces struck against militants some of who may be returnees from holy war in Syria.
After the gun smoke lifted, police continued with searches in Verviers and the greater Brussels area, seeking more clues in a weeks-long investigation that started well before the terrorism rampage in France last week. The Belgian operations had no apparent link to the attacks in France.
And, unlike the Paris terrorists, the suspects in Belgium were reportedly aiming at hard targets: police installations.
“They were on the verge of committing important terror attacks,” federal magistrate Eric Van der Sypt told a news conference in Brussels.
Belgian authorities had moved swiftly in the rustbelt town of Verviers Thursday to pre-empt what they called a major attack by as little as hours.
“As soon as I opened the window, you could smell the gunpowder,” said neighbor Alexandre Massaux following a minutes-long firefight with automatic weapons and Kalashnikovs that was also punctuated by explosions.
“As soon as they thought special forces were there, they opened fire,” federal magistrate Van der Sypt said.
“It shows we have to be extremely careful,” Van der Sypt said. The Verviers suspects “were extremely well-armed men” equipped with automatic weapons, he said. Some of the individuals “were in Syria and had come back,” he added.
Authorities have previously said 300 Belgian residents have gone to fight with extremist Islamic formations in Syria; it is unclear how many have returned. Thousands of European extremists have also fought in Syria.
Belgian authorities had said earlier that they were looking into possible links between a man they arrested in the southern city of Charleroi for illegal trade in weapons and Coulibaly, who killed four people in a Paris kosher market last week.
Several other countries are also involved in the hunt for possible accomplices to Coulibaly and the other gunmen in the French attacks, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi.
The Kouachi brothers claimed allegiance to Al-Qaeda in Yemen, and Coulibaly to the Islamic State group.
A senior Iraqi intelligence official told The Associated Press on Friday that Iraqi intelligence warned French intelligence about two months ago that a group linked to Khorasan in Syria was plotting an attack in Paris. The official spoke anonymously as he is not authorized to brief media. It was impossible to verify how serious or advanced the claims of a plot were. Iraq’s prime minister also warned in September of possible attacks in New York and Paris.
France’s Parliament voted this week to extend airstrikes against Islamic State extremists in Iraq.
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Casert reported from Brussels. Associates Press writers David Rising in Berlin, John-Thor Dahlburg, Greg Keller, Jamey Keaten, Angela Charlton, Sylvie Corbet, Lori Hinnant, Matthew Lee and Nicolas Vaux-Montagny in Paris and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.


Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

Updated 20 July 2019
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Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

  • Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests
  • Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over

HONG KONG: Tens of thousands of people rallied in support of Hong Kong’s police and pro-Beijing leadership on Saturday, a vivid illustration of the polarization coursing through the city after weeks of anti-government demonstrations.
Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests — as well as a series of separate violent confrontations with police — sparked by a proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China and other countries.
The bill has since been suspended, but that has done little to quell public anger which has evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms, universal suffrage and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous financial hub.
Saturday’s rally was a moment for the establishment to muster their own supporters.
A predominantly older crowd was joined by families and younger residents, waving Chinese flags and holding banners supporting the police.
“Friends who used violence say they love Hong Kong too, but we absolutely cannot approve of their way of expressing themselves,” said Sunny Wong, 42, who works in insurance.
A 60-year-old woman surnamed Leung said protesters who stormed and vandalized the legislature earlier this month must be held responsible for their acts.
“I really dislike people using violence on others... it was so extreme,” Leung said.
Police estimated a turnout of 103,000 people at the peak of the rally, while local media cited organizers as saying 316,000 attended.
Hong Kong’s police are in the midst of a major reputational crisis.
With no political solution on the table from the city’s pro-Beijing leaders, the police have become enmeshed in a seemingly intractable cycle of clashes with protesters who have continued to hit the streets in huge numbers for six weeks.
Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over.
Police insist their crowd control responses have been proportionate and point to injured officers as proof that a hardcore minority of protesters mean them harm.
Some of the most violent clashes occurred last Sunday when riot police battled protesters hurling projectiles inside a luxury mall. Some 28 people were injured, including 10 officers.
There is growing frustration among the police force’s exhausted rank and file that neither the city’s leaders, nor Beijing, seem to have any idea how to end the crisis.
Chinese state media and powerful pro-Beijing groups threw their weight behind the pro-police rally.
Saturday’s edition of Hong Kong’s staunchly pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao ran a front page encouraging readers to join with the headline: “Kick away the violence.”
It featured a drawing of a large foot kicking over a pro-democracy demonstrator.
Many of those at the rally held aloft large slogans printed on the spread of Wen Wei Po, another stridently pro-Beijing newspaper in the city.
A rally last month by police supporters saw ugly scenes, with many participants hurling insults and scuffling with younger democracy protesters as well as media covering the gathering.
While the pro-government protests have mustered decent crowds, they have paled in comparison with the huge pro-democracy marches that have regularly drawn hundreds of thousands of people.
Anti-government protesters are planning another large march Sunday afternoon and say they have no plan to back down until key demands are met.
Tensions were also raised after police on Saturday said they had discovered a homemade laboratory making high-powered explosives. A 27-year-old man was arrested and pro-independence materials were also discovered.
Under the 1997 handover deal with Britain, China promised to allow Hong Kong to keep key liberties such as its independent judiciary and freedom of speech.
But many say that 50-year deal is already being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy protest leaders.
Authorities have also resisted calls for the city’s leader to be directly elected by the people.