Weapons Watchdog Finds Sarin Used in Deadly Attack in Syria

FILE - In this April 4, 2017 file photo, victims of a suspected chemical weapons attack lie on the ground, in Khan Sheikhoun, in the northern province of Idlib, Syria. (Alaa Alyousef via AP, File)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — An investigation by the international chemical weapons watchdog confirmed that sarin nerve gas was used in a deadly April 4 attack on a Syrian town, but a report released Friday stopped short of saying who was responsible.

The attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s Idlib province killed more than 90 people, including women and children. It sparked outrage around the world as photos and video of the aftermath, including quivering children dying on camera, were widely broadcast.

“I strongly condemn this atrocity, which wholly contradicts the norms enshrined in the Chemical Weapons Convention,” Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said in a statement. “The perpetrators of this horrific attack must be held accountable for their crimes.”

The U.S. blamed the Syrian military for the attack and launched a punitive strike days later. Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied using chemical weapons.

A Syrian lawmaker questioned the results and described the report as part of a campaign of “political exploitation” against his country.

The findings of the investigation released Friday will be used by a joint U.N.-OPCW investigation team working to assess who was responsible for the attack. The team is expected to issue its next report around October. The OPCW has scheduled a July 5 meeting of its executive council to discuss the matter.

The U.S. State Department said in a statement Thursday night, after the report was circulated to OPCW members, that “the facts reflect a despicable and highly dangerous record of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime.” Only some details of the report were released to the public.

Assad’s staunch ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, said earlier this month that he believed the attack was “a provocation” staged “by people who wanted to blame” Assad.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the report doesn’t back claims by the U.S. and its allies that the sarin was dropped from aircraft.

“They don’t know how the sarin ended up there, yet tensions have been escalating for all these months,” Lavrov said in Moscow.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that while the report did not apportion blame, “the U.K.’s own assessment is that the Assad regime almost certainly carried out this abominable attack.”

Both the U.S. and the OPCW defended the probe’s methodology. Investigators did not visit the scene of the attack, deeming it too dangerous, but analyzed samples from victims and survivors as well as interviewing witnesses.

Mohammad Kheir Akkam, a member of Syria’s parliament, said that the lack of on-site investigations undermined the findings.

“We should ask how did they get to these results,” Akkam said. “Let us ask those who carried out this investigation. How did they reach those results without taking samples from the same area?”

He said the timing of the report “points to political exploitation,” adding that it appeared linked to the U.S. warnings this week that the Syrian government is preparing to use chemical weapons.

Syria joined the OPCW in 2013 after it was blamed for a deadly poison gas attack in a Damascus suburb. As it joined, Assad’s government declared some 1,300 tons of chemical weapons and precursor chemicals that were subsequently destroyed in an unprecedented international operation.

However, the organization still has unanswered questions about the completeness of Syria’s initial declaration, meaning that it has never conclusively been able to confirm that the country has no more chemical weapons.

The investigative team responsible for the report has previously concluded “with a high degree of confidence” that chlorine and sulfur mustard, commonly known as mustard gas, had been used as weapons in Syria.



Hundreds flee Mosul as Iraqi forces squeeze extremists

MOSUL, Iraq — Hundreds of civilians fled Mosul’s Old City on Friday as Iraqi forces slowly squeezed the last pockets of Islamic State resistance, and the U.N. warned that the “intense and concentrated” fighting put innocent lives in even greater danger.

People climbed over mounds of rubble and through narrow alleys as gunshots and explosions rang out nearby. The neighborhoods where government forces are fighting have been under siege for months as grueling urban warfare drew out the operation to retake Iraq’s second-largest city.

For the civilians held as human shields by the extremists, supplies have run low and drinking water is scarce, according to residents interviewed at screening centers and clinics by The Associated Press.

The battles came a day after Iraqi forces made significant gains against the militants and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared an end to the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

After a dawn push on Thursday, Iraqi forces retook the symbolic site where the al-Nuri Mosque once stood. It was from the pulpit of the 12th century mosque, which the militants blew up last week along with its famous leaning minaret, that their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had proclaimed the caliphate in 2014.

During the evening, al-Abadi announced that the full liberation of Mosul was near and that Iraq’s “brave forces will bring victory.”

Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saadi said that by Friday afternoon, the special forces were within 700 meters (766 yards) of the Tigris River, which roughly divides Mosul into eastern and western halves.

The operation to retake Mosul, backed closely by the U.S.-led coalition, began in October, with the Iraqi government initially vowing the city would be liberated in 2016.

IS now holds a small patch of territory in Mosul’s Old City along the Tigris that measures less than two square kilometers (0.8 square miles). The terrain is dense, and the U.N. estimates tens of thousands of civilians are trapped there.

“We don’t feel the end yet, to be honest. It’s still full on,” said Frederic Cussigh, head of the UNHCR Irbil office. About 1,400 people fleeing the Old City have been registered at screening centers in the past two days, he added.

“Regardless of the outcome of the battle, the humanitarian situation will be critical for a lot longer than we anticipated,” Cussigh said.

The high numbers of displaced civilians and the extensive destruction will mean more people will have to stay in camps for longer periods, requiring food, water and other aid, he said. Cussigh expects the humanitarian fallout from the fight for Mosul to last into 2018.

The clashes have displaced more than 850,000 people since the operation to retake Mosul was launched, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The Islamic State group’s media arm, the Aamaq news agency, reported fierce fighting on the outskirts of Mosul and in the neighborhoods of Bab Jadid, al-Mashahda and Bab al-Beidh, saying its fighters killed more than 50 Iraqi soldiers.

Though IS claims are often exaggerated, the fact that the reports made no mention of the Old City was significant and could be interpreted as indirect confirmation of losses there.

Another IS media outlet, the weekly al-Nabaa, on Thursday quoted an unidentified militant commander as saying that the battle for Mosul is a fight “either to achieve victory or die as a martyr.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted his congratulations Friday to the city’s residents and the Iraqi people on the “breeze of freedom in Mosul after three years of occupation, violence and killing.”

IS also is under increased pressure in Syria, where its self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa is encircled by an array of forces, closely backed by the coalition. Despite a series of recent losses in both Iraq and Syria, al-Baghdadi’s fate remains unknown.

Ali Shirazi, a representative of Iran’s supreme leader in the powerful Revolutionary Guard, suggested that al-Baghdadi had been killed, the official IRNA news agency reported. He did not elaborate.

Earlier this month, Russia said he may have been killed by one of its airstrikes in May on the outskirts of Raqqa. Russian officials stressed, however, that the information was still being verified. Russia and Iran are staunch allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad.


University to remove cross and Bibles from campus chapel

Kathryn P. Boswell Memorial Chapel, on the campus of East Central University.

East Central University said they will remove crosses, Bibles and other religious symbols from a campus chapel to appease a bunch of out-of-town agitators.

It’s unclear when the Oklahoma school will commence with the Christian cleansing of the Kathryn P. Boswell Memorial Chapel. The chapel opened in 1957.

“We will continue to use the building as we always have, for all faiths,” ECU President Katricia Pierson said in a statement to the Ada News. “We do not want to presume to embrace one faith over another. We support all cultures and attempt to make them comfortable when they are here.”

The university’s president went on to say they are “looking at the feasibility of removing the cross on the steeple, but need to respond to the request for removal of religious icons from the chapel.”

“We are exploring options for preserving the items,” she said.

So on the bright side, it appears East Central University will not burn the Bibles or toss the crosses into a wood chipper.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is responsible for the Christian cleansing at ECU. They fired off a terse letter accusing the school of displaying “religious iconography.” That letter was obtained by the Ada News.

“These displays include Latin crosses on the top of and inside the building, Bibles and a Christian altar,” the letter stated. “While it is legal for a public university to have a space that can be used by students for religious worship so long as that space is not dedicated solely to that purpose, it is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to display religious iconography on government property.”

That’s a great big load of legal malarkey.

Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for First Liberty Institute, said there is federal precedent to maintain chapels in taxpayer-funded facilities.

“We have a Congressional Prayer Room in the Capitol, we have chapels in government owned airports and many other government owned chapels,” Sasser told me.

Sasser suspects Americans United is just testing Oklahoma’s new attorney general – Mike Hunter.

“They want to see if he backs down or stands up to their ridiculous claims and I predict Mike Hunter will fight hard to preserve this historic chapel,” Sasser said.

Meanwhile, many Oklahomans are furious over the university’s decision to capitulate to those who want to eradicate Christianity from the public marketplace.

“I feel betrayed by our own country, upset that this could take place in America,” alum Jill Tucker Brown told me. “We are a nation founded on Christianity.”

Ms. Brown believes the university should stand up to the atheist and secularist bullies.

“I think it is absurd that anyone would go to this length (to remove the cross),” she told me. “If this university does not stand up for their rights, this will not be their only fight.”

Anita Thomas is also a graduate of East Central University and she is heartbroken over the news.

“I am heartbroken because our country has become a place where things like this can happen,” she told me. “

Much like the Islamic radicals, the atheists and secularists want to erase Christianity from the public marketplace. And they are waging their cultural jihad not with bombs – but with lawsuits.

As I wrote in “The Deplorables’ Guide to Making America Great Again,”it is time for patriots to mobilize and fight back. Appeasement is not the answer.

First,  contact the university’s president and politely voice your opinion. Second, contact Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter and urge him to fight back against this godless scourge. And finally, the university’s alumni should immediately halt all funding.

If they remove the cross from the chapel – we should remove “In God we Trust” from their bank account.


ISIS admits Mosul defeat, preacher’s sermon suggests Baghdadi’s death

Mosul – Islamic State militants have admitted defeat in the city of Mosul during sermons that also revived suspicions regarding the death of the group’s supreme leader.

Alsumaria News quoted a local source in Nineveh on Friday saying that Abu Baraa al-Mawseli, one of Islamic State’s top leaders and the assistant ruler of Tal Afar town, west of the province, delivered a sermon during the Friday prayer in which he “surprisingly” admitted defeat in Mosul, as the source put it.

Abu Baraa also declared Tal Afar as “a temporary headquarter for the Caliphate”.

At another sermon in the same town, Alsumaria News said Abu Qutaiba, another senior aide to IS supreme leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, broke into tears when he came to mention the latter during the speech. “He mumbled a few words afterwards that suggested Baghdadi’s death,” the source said.

Iraqi security officials have not verified the two incidents, but have confirmed the collapse of the group’s rule in Iraq by losing Mosul.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared on Thursday Islamic State’s defeat in western Mosul Old City, the group’s last bastion in the city from where it first declared its establishment in 2014.

Baghdadi’s only appearance was in a video clip showing him making the sermon proclaiming the establishment of an Islamist “caliphate” in the Old City’s Grand Nuri Mosque, and never showed up again. Speculations and clashing reports about his whereabouts and survival have been plenteous. Russia said recently it was 100% of his death.


WWII vet recounts how he tricked 15,000 German soldiers: ‘I had a flutter inside my body’

Moffatt Burriss

By April 1945, Capt. T. Moffatt Burriss, then 24, had helped liberate Wobbelin Concentration Camp, participated in Operation Market Garden and fought in the deadly battles of Anzio and Salerno in Italy

Little did he know that another harrowing moment was just around the corner.

The Allies were nearing victory in Berlin when, he recalled, orders came in from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who later became president, to stand down and allow Russians take control.


“But I said: ‘I can’t stand this any longer.’ I got in my Jeep with the lieutenant and sergeant and said, ‘Let’s go across the river and see what we can see, see if there are some crowds still over there,'” he said.

Burriss ended up stumbling head-on with a 15,000-man German Panzer Corps. That did not stop him from going straight to German unit’s leader. Burris informed the three-star German general that he was there to accept the German unit’s surrender.

The general, Burriss recalled, looked at him as if he was crazy – especially because he was accompanied by only two men and a Jeep.


“He went back and had a conference with his senior staff, walked back, pulled his pistol out and pointed it right at my heart. I will admit that I had a flutter inside my body at that moment, but he turned it around and had the pistol pointed toward himself,” Burriss said.

While Burriss’ colonel was not happy that he defied orders, he did not ask Burris to return the German unit. The American army ended up disarming the German Panzer Corps.


Global cyber attack likely cover for malware installation in Ukraine: police official

Technicians work on a flight timetable for the airport's site at the capital's main airport, Boryspil, outside Kiev, Ukraine, June 27, 2017. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

The primary target of a crippling computer virus that spread from Ukraine across the world this week is highly likely to have been that country’s computer infrastructure, a top Ukrainian police official told Reuters on Thursday.

Cyber security firms are trying to piece together who was behind the computer worm, dubbed NotPetya by some experts, which has paralyzed thousands of machines worldwide, shutting down ports, factories and offices as it spread through internal organizational networks to an estimated 60 countries.

Ukrainian politicians were quick on Tuesday to blame Russia, but a Kremlin spokesman dismissed “unfounded blanket accusations”. Kiev has accused Moscow of two previous cyber strikes on the Ukrainian power grid and other attacks since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

A growing consensus among security researchers, armed with technical evidence, suggests the main purpose of the attack was to install new malware on computers at government and commercial organizations in Ukraine. Rather than extortion, the goal may be to plant the seeds of future sabotage, experts said.

International firms appear to have been hit through their operations in the country.

Slovakian security software firm ESET released statistics on Thursday showing 75 percent of the infections detected among its global customer base were in Ukraine, and that all of the top 10 countries hit were located in central, eastern or southern Europe.

Arne Schoenbohm, president of BSI, Germany’s federal cyber security agency, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday that most of the damage from the attack had hit Ukraine, and Russia to a lesser extent, with only a few dozen German firms affected.

“In all of the known cases, the companies were first infected through a Ukrainian subsidiary,” the German official said.


Ukraine’s cyber police said in a statement on Thursday morning that it had received 1,500 requests for help from individuals and companies in connection with the virus.

The malicious code in the new virus encrypted data on computers and demanded victims pay a $300 ransom, similar to the extortion tactic used in a global WannaCry ransomware attack in May.

A top Ukrainian police official told Reuters that the extortion demands were likely a smokescreen, echoing working hypotheses from top cyber security firms, who consider NotPetya a “wiper”, or tool for destroying data and wiping hard disks clean, that is disguised as ransomware.

“Since the virus was modified to encrypt all data and make decryption impossible, the likelihood of it being done to install new malware is high,” the official, who declined to be identified, wrote in a phone text message to Reuters.

Information Systems Security Partners (ISSP), a Kiev-based cyber research firm that has investigated previous cyber attacks against Ukraine, is pursuing the same line of inquiry.

ISSP said that given that few people actually paid the $300 demanded for removing the virus, money was unlikely to be the primary object of the attack.

“It’s highly likely that during this attack new attacks were set up,” said ISSP chairman Oleg Derevianko.

“At almost all organizations whose network domains were infected, not all computers went offline,” he said by phone. “Why didn’t they all go offline? We are trying to understand what they might have left on those machines that weren’t hit.”

Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov said the virus was first and foremost spread through an update issued by an accounting services and business management software.

“Also involved was the hosting service of an internet provider, which the SBU (Ukraine’s state security service) has already questioned about cooperation with Russian intelligence agencies,” he said, according to a statement.


Technical experts familiar with the recent history of the cyber escalation between Russia and Ukraine, say these latest attacks are part of the wider political and military conflict, although no “smoking gun” has been found to identify the culprits.

John Hultquist, a cyber intelligence analyst with FireEye, said the failed ransomware attack disguises an as yet unseen destructive motive. “If it were an attack masquerading as crime, that would not be unprecedented at all,” Hultquist said.

Some cyber security researchers have said the fact that the Kremlin’s two flagship energy companies are victims of the attack could suggest Moscow was not behind it.

Russian oil major Rosneft was one of the first companies to reveal it had been compromised by the virus and sources told Reuters on Thursday computers at state gas giant Gazprom had also been infected.

For technical reasons, NotPetya appears to be more targeted than last month’s global ransomware attack, known as WannaCry. When first infected by WannaCry, computers scanned the internet globally for other vulnerable machines.

By contrast, NotPetya does not randomly scan the Internet to find new computers to infect. It only spreads itself inside organizational networks, taking advantage of a variety of legitimate network administration tools.

This makes it far harder for anti-virus software or network security technicians to detect. It also gives it the capacity to infect other Windows computers, even those with the latest security patches, several security firms warned on Thursday.

“Petya is proving to be more sophisticated than WannaCry in terms of scope, ability to be neutralized, and apparently, the motivation behind its launch,” corporate security consulting firm Kroll has advised its clients.

So far, NotPetya appears only to have been distributed inside Ukraine via a handful of so-called “watering-hole attacks” – by piggy-backing on the software updating feature of a popular national tax accounting program known as MEDoc.

Kaspersky, a global cyber security firm based in Russia, also said they found a second distribution point on a local news site in the city of Bakhmut, Ukraine, which infected visitors who clicked on the site with the ransomware-like attack.

“Our analysis indicates the main purpose of the attack was not financial gain, but widespread destruction,” said Costin Raiu, Kaspersky’s global head of research.

“NotPetya ..combined elements of a targeted watering hole attack we’ve traditionally seen used by nation states with traditional software exploitation to devastate a specific user base,” Lesley Carhart, a Chicago-based security researcher, wrote in a blog widely shared online by top security experts.


Paris residents kept awake by mosque loudspeakers

The President of the Union of Seine-et-Marne Muslims, Boudjema Hammache, said: “It is a duty to show respect and appeasement to others.”

Hammache no doubt believes that only non-Muslims have such a duty. When in Muslim countries, one must conform one’s behavior to suit Muslim sensibilities. And when in non-Muslim countries, one must conform one’s behavior to suit Muslim sensibilities.

The loudspeakers of a Mée-sur-Seine mosque blasting out prayers and songs in the early hours of the morning through Ramadan caused chaos with the sleep patterns of Parisians living in the French capital’s south-eastern suburb, locals have said.

As well as operating year-round on Friday afternoons, the loudspeakers were in action from 11.30 pm each night until past 1 am during the Islamic holy month so as to allow Muslims praying on the streets outside, due to lack of space in the mosque, to hear.

“The loudspeaker is so intense,” a resident told Le Parisien. “We hear prayers, songs and readings delivered in a fashion that is completely disrespectful of people who follow other religions, and atheists.

“Some nights it is impossible to get more than four hours sleep because even after the prayers end, the faithful then engage in discussions which can last for another two hours.”

The French newspaper reports that frustrated locals said neither Mée-sur-Seine’s mayor, Franck Vernin, nor the police responded to their complaints….

President of the Union of Seine-et-Marne Muslims, Boudjema Hammache, agreed with Salah, telling Le Parisien: “It is a duty to show respect and appeasement to others.