Woman Killed, 73 Injured In US Military Base Attack

 

Taliban suicide bombers targeted a key US military base in Afghanistan Wednesday in a major attack that wounded more than 70 civilians, officials said, amid renewed peace talks between the United States and the militants.

The early morning assault began when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive-packed vehicle outside a hospital building near Bagram military base in Parwan province, north of the capital Kabul, according to local officials.

Seven more gunmen, some wearing suicide vests are believed to have then entered the building — which was under construction and not operational — in order to use it as a launching pad for attacks against the nearby US base, local officials said.

Almost 10 hours into the attack, an Afghan interior ministry spokesman said at least three militants were still holed up inside the hospital compound, fighting Afghan and foreign forces.

“Three attackers are still inside the building resisting, while three more have been killed and one arrested,” Nasrat Rahimi told AFP.

At least two Afghan civilians, including one woman, were killed while 73 others were wounded in the explosion that damaged houses up to 300 metres (yards) away, Rahimi said.

A Taliban spokesman later claimed responsibility for the attack, claiming that “tens” of US and Afghan soldiers had been killed or wounded.

In a WhatsApp message Zabihullah Mujahid said the militants had detonated a truck bomb outside Bagram base, but denied Taliban fighters had taken up positions inside a hospital.

Afghan and US officials could not immediately confirm if a truck bomb had been used in the attack.

“The attack was quickly contained and repelled … but the future medical facility was badly damaged,” NATO’s Resolute Support mission said in a statement.

It said there were no US or coalition casualties but Georgia’s defence ministry said five of its soldiers received minor injuries in the attack.

The assault comes as Washington resumed talks with the Taliban on Saturday, three months after President Donald Trump abruptly cancelled them after a Taliban suicide attack killed 12 people including a US soldier, in Kabul.

Trump made a surprise visit to Bagram on November 28 to celebrate Thanksgiving with his troops and meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

“The Taliban wants to make a deal and we’re meeting with them and we’re saying it has to be a ceasefire,” he told reporters, confirming the resumption of the stalled talks.

It was not immediately clear if the Taliban’s targeting of the US’s largest Afghan military base would affect the renewed talks between the two sides.

On Monday the Washington Post reported on thousands of US government documents which showed that senior American officials had insisted progress was being made in Afghanistan despite clear evidence the war had become unwinnable.

AFP

Boeing 737 MAX Won’t Be Recertified Until 2020 – US Aviation Chief

A Boeing 737 MAX 9 airplane test its engines outside of the company’s factory on March 11, 2019 in Renton, Washington.   Stephen Brashear/Getty Images/AFPs

 

Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft, which has been grounded since March following two deadly crashes, will not be cleared to fly until 2020, the top US regulator said Wednesday.

Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson told CNBC the process for approving the MAX’s return to the skies still has 10 or 11 milestones left to complete, including a certification flight and a public comment period.

“If you just do the math, it’s going to extend into 2020,” Dickson said.

Boeing has been aiming to win regulatory approval this month, with flights projected to resume in January.

But Dickson said, “I’ve made it very clear Boeing’s plan is not the FAA’s plan.” He added that “we’re going to keep our heads down and support the team in getting this report done right.”

Boeing and the FAA have been under intense scrutiny following crashes that together killed 346 people and have prompted Boeing to cut production of the top-selling jet while new plane deliveries are suspended.

Dickson was expected to face another round of tough questioning at a congressional hearing later Wednesday.

Lawmakers have questioned whether the crashes were the result of FAA officials being too cozy with Boeing, leading to lax oversight during the original certification process for the aircraft.

AFP

Police Officer, Five Others Killed In New Jersey Shooting

A Jersey City police officer reacts at the scene of a shooting that left multiple people dead on December 10, 2019 in Jersey City, New Jersey. Rick Loomis/Getty Images/AFP

 

Six people including a police officer and two suspects were killed during an hours-long shootout across a New York suburb not far from the Statue of Liberty, local officials said.

“Our officers were under fire for hours,” Jersey City Police Chief Michael Kelly told reporters after the latest high-profile US shooting.

In addition to the officer and the suspects, three civilians were killed in the incident that began around midday at a cemetery and ended in a store, Kelly said.

Bomb squad officers were examining a stolen U-Haul vehicle “that may contain an incendiary device,” he added.

No clear reason for the shooting has been given.

Five of the dead were found inside a store, said Kelly.

“We believe that two of them are bad guys,” while the other three are civilians, he said, describing the crime scene as “very extensive, three locations at least.”

Two other officers were wounded, Kelly told reporters.

“I heard fighting outside, then ‘Boom! Boom! Boom!'” the New York Daily News quoted a food store worker two blocks from the shooting as saying.

“I saw people running outside — men, women, children in the street. These people were scared.”

Kelly said the suspects’ “movement was rapid and continuous for four hours” during the drama which saw the deployment of hundreds of police from New Jersey and New York, including tactical officers armed with rifles and wearing olive-green fatigues and helmets.

NBC television reported that hundreds of rounds were fired.

Media reports said the shooting began when an officer investigating a homicide approached the suspects in the cemetery.

Identified by media as Detective Joseph Seals, he was the first victim.

Asked to confirm whether the officer was indeed probing a murder, Kelly said it is “being looked into.”

The suspects then took refuge in a grocery store where firing continued and the five bodies were later found.

US residents have become accustomed to shootings — everywhere from churches to schools and cinemas — and firearms were linked to nearly 40,000 deaths of various kinds in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

AFP

US City Hit By Cyberattack Days After Military Base Shooting

A general view of the atmosphere at the Pensacola Naval Air Station following a shooting on December 06, 2019 in Pensacola, Florida. Josh Brasted/Getty Images/AFP

 

Authorities in Pensacola, Florida said Monday the city had been hit by a cyberattack, just days after a Saudi officer killed three American sailors at the city’s naval base.

Emails, telephone lines and online payment services were affected by the attack, the northwestern municipality announced on Facebook.

Officials did not say whether there was a link between the cyber and naval base attacks.

“We’re… trying to figure out who this was and… where do we go from here in putting our system back together,” mayor Grover Robinson said at a press conference.

City officials also notified the FBI, whose Jacksonville office tweeted it was “providing resources to assist” but that no further information was available at the time.

The cyberattack comes as Pensacola is still reeling from the naval base shooting.

On Friday, Mohammed Alshamrani, a second lieutenant in the Saudi Royal Air Force, opened fire in a classroom at the Pensacola naval base, killing three sailors and wounding eight others before being shot dead by police.

The 21-year-old had been on the base for a Saudi military training program.

The FBI said Sunday they were investigating with the “presumption” it was an act of terrorism but had yet to make a final determination.

AFP

US, Mexico, Canada To Sign Deal Finalising Trade Agreement

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (L), US President Donald Trump (C) and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are pictured after signing a new free trade agreement in Buenos Aires, on November 30, 2018, on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders’ Summit.  Martin BERNETTI / AFP

 

The United States, Mexico and Canada will sign an “initial deal” Tuesday finalizing the USMCA trade agreement, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said.

“There is an initial deal between the governments,” the leftist leader told his daily news conference, as negotiators from the three countries prepared to meet in Mexico City.

“Today it will be signed by… the three countries’ negotiators.”

Lopez Obrador was due to chair a meeting of top officials from the three countries at the presidential palace at 1800 GMT.

Initially signed in November 2018, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement is meant to replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which President Donald Trump complains has been “a disaster” for the US.

But Mexico is the only country to ratify it so far.

In Washington, opposition Democrats — acutely aware of the need to win back blue-collar voters they lost to Trump in 2016 — have insisted on greater oversight of Mexican labor reforms promised under the new deal, including wage hikes and increased power for unions.

AFP

US, China Working To Delay December 15 Tariffs – Report

This photo taken on August 7, 2018 shows workers unloading bags of chemicals at a port in Zhangjiagang in China’s eastern Jiangsu province.  Johannes EISELE / AFP

 

US and Chinese officials are working on a deal to postpone a round of tariffs set to hit Chinese imports in five days, according to a media report on Tuesday.

Delaying the new duties, which cover about $160 billion in imports, including consumer favorites like mobile phones, could help reassure markets the two sides are making progress towards ending their trade war.

Officials on both sides say they now expect to continue talking past December 15, when the tariffs are due to kick in, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The report helped move Wall Street futures into positive territory.

US officials have reiterated that any final decision by the American camp belongs to President Donald Trump.

For two months, the two sides have struggled to finalize a partial deal that Trump announced in October.

Should the December 15 tariffs take effect, virtually all the merchandise the United States imports annually from China will be covered by punitive tariffs.

AFP

Trump Thanks Iran As American Freed In Prisoner Swap

 

President Donald Trump had rare positive words for Iran on Saturday, thanking the US foe for a “very fair” negotiation to successfully pull off a prisoner swap that saw an American released from Iranian detention amid soaring tensions.

The exchange, which took place in neutral Switzerland, involved a Princeton graduate student jailed in Iran for espionage since 2016 and an Iranian national arrested over a year ago in Chicago.

“Thank you to Iran on a very fair negotiation,” tweeted Trump, as Xiyue Wang made his way home to his family. The US leader was expected to welcome Wang in person when he arrives in the United States, after a stop in Germany for medical evaluations.

“It was a one-on-one hostage swap,” Trump told reporters. “I think it was great to show than we can do something. It might have been a precursor as to what can be done.”

A photo tweeted by the American Embassy in Bern showed Wang on a rainswept tarmac in Zurich with an official blue and white US jet in the background, hugging Ambassador Edward McMullen.

The Chinese-born American was in apparent good health and in “very, very good humor,” said a senior US administration official.

Tehran had announced the release of its national, Massoud Soleimani, shortly before Trump revealed that Wang was returning home.

“Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted — along with a photograph of himself and the scientist on a plane under the words “Going home.”

“Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss government,” which has looked after US interests in Iran in the absence of diplomatic ties, Zarif said.

The Swiss foreign ministry confirmed that the exchange — which it called a “humanitarian gesture” — took place on its territory. Both the US and Iran credited Switzerland with an intensive diplomatic effort to secure the men’s release.

“Our country stands ready for further facilitation,” the foreign ministry statement said.

 ‘Hopeful’ sign 

The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic ties since 1980, and relations have sharply worsened since Trump withdrew from an international accord giving Iran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

The arch-enemies came to the brink of military confrontation in June this year when Iran downed a US drone and Trump ordered retaliatory strikes before cancelling them at the last minute.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was “pleased that Tehran has been constructive in this matter.”

Briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, the senior US official noted that Trump “remains committed to talks with Iran without preconditions” — about Tehran’s nuclear program, its “malign activities” in the Middle East, and the deadly mass protests that have gripped the country.

While Iran has so far rebuffed US offers of talks, the official said: “We’re hopeful that the release of Mr Wang is a sign that the Iranians may be willing to come to the table to discuss all these issues.”

The official also voiced hope that Wang’s release signals “the Iranians are realizing that the practice of hostage-taking diplomacy really should come to an end.”

A doctoral candidate at Princeton, Wang was conducting research for his dissertation on late 19th- and early 20th-century Eurasian history when he was imprisoned in August 2016. He was serving 10 years on espionage charges.

“He was not a spy, he was not involved in espionage and, and was wrongfully detained from the start,” the US official said.

A statement on the Iranian judiciary’s Mizan Online website said Wang had been “freed on Islamic clemency.”

Soleimani, a professor and senior stem cell researcher at Tehran’s Tarbiat Modares University, was arrested on arrival at an airport in Chicago in October 2018 for allegedly attempting to ship growth hormones, according to Iranian media.

The US official confirmed the Justice Department has dropped charges against Soleimani, calling the swap a “reciprocal humanitarian gesture” and a “very, very good deal for the United States.”

“There’s been absolutely no payments of cash or lifting of sanctions or any sort of concessions or ransom,” the official said.

 Spying allegations 

Rob Malley, president of the International Crisis Group consultancy, called it a “rare bit of good news on US-Iran front.”

“But several other Americans remain unjustly detained in Iran and they should be released too,” he cautioned. “They should not be used as pawns in the two countries’ fraught relationship.”

Foreign nationals still held in Iran include former US soldier Michael R. White, British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, French academic Roland Marchal and Australian university lecturer Kylie Moore-Gilbert.

Two other Australians, travel bloggers Jolie King and Mark Firkin, were released in October by Iran, in another apparent swap for Iranian student Reza Dehbashi.

In September, Negar Ghodskani, an Iranian woman sentenced in the United States for violating sanctions against Tehran was released and returned home after giving birth in custody.

An unknown number of Iranians are detained abroad.

AFP

Saudis Distance Themselves From US Naval Base Shooter

Military personnel carry a transfer case for fallen service member, U.S. Navy Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base on December 8, 2019 in Dover, Delaware. Mark Makela/Getty Images/AFP

 

Saudi Arabia sought to distance itself Saturday from a student who carried out a fatal shooting at an American naval base, as it seeks to repair its image of being an exporter of Islamic extremism.

The Saudi military trainee reportedly condemned the US as a “nation of evil” before going on a rampage Friday at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, killing three people and wounding eight.

The shooting marks a setback in the kingdom’s efforts to shrug off its longstanding reputation for promoting religious extremism after the September 11, 2001 attacks in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.

The hashtag “Saudis stand with America” gained traction on social media after King Salman telephoned President Donald Trump to denounce the shooting as “heinous” and pledge cooperation with American officials to investigate the incident.

The king added in the phone call on Friday that the shooter, who was gunned down by police, “does not represent the Saudi people”.

The family of the shooter, identified as Mohammed al-Shamrani, echoed the same sentiment.

The pro-government Okaz newspaper quoted one of his uncles, Saad al-Shamrani, as saying that his actions do not reflect the “humanity and loyalty of his family” to the kingdom’s leadership.

Prince Khalid bin Salman, the king’s younger son and the deputy defence minister, offered his “sincerest condolences” to the families of the victims.

“Like many other Saudi military personnel, I was trained in a US military base, and we used that valuable training to fight side by side with our American allies against terrorism and other threats,” Prince Khalid said on Twitter.

“A large number of Saudi graduates of the Naval Air Station in Pensacola moved on to serve with their US counterparts in battlefronts around the world, helping to safeguard the regional and global security. (The) tragic event is strongly condemned by everyone in Saudi Arabia.”

 ‘Owe a debt’ 

The incident is unlikely to affect Washington’s close relations with Riyadh, with both governments seeking military and diplomatic cooperation to counter Shiite power Iran.

Seeking to emphasise the close ties, many Saudis on social media highlighted American media reports about two exchange students from Saudi Arabia who drowned last year in Massachusetts after rushing into a river to rescue two small children.

But Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suggested Riyadh should offer compensation to the victims.

“The government of Saudi Arabia needs to make things better for these victims, and I think they’re going to owe a debt here given that this is one of their individuals,” DeSantis told US media.

Saudi citizens strongly rejected the view on social media, with one Twitter user saying: “The government of Saudi Arabia is not responsible for every single individual with a Saudi passport.”

Relatives of the victims of the 2001 attacks are also suing Saudi Arabia for compensation even though Riyadh has strongly denied complicity in the attacks.

Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has sought to project a moderate image of his austere kingdom, often associated in the West with jihadist ideology.

Prince Mohammed has promoted what observers call a de-emphasis on religion as he pursues a sweeping modernisation drive that has allowed mixed-gender music concerts and ended decades-long bans on cinemas and women drivers.

Saudi Arabia, which is home to Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina and where the practice of other religions is banned, has hosted a flurry of representatives of various Christian traditions in recent months.

But the self-styled reformer has also faced global criticism for the kingdom’s poor human rights record, including the jailing of multiple women activists, clerics and journalists.

AFP

Rising Rap Artist Juice WRLD Dies At 21

In this file photo taken on September 21, 2019 Juice Wrld performs onstage during the 2019 iHeartRadio Music Festival and Daytime Stage at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds in Las Vegas, Nevada. BRYAN STEFFY / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

 

 

Chicago-born rapper Juice WRLD, one of a wave of young artists who made a name on streaming platforms before breaking out as chart-toppers and social media celebrities, died on Sunday at the age of 21, according to local authorities.

A spokeswoman from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office in Illinois told AFP that it had been notified of the rapper born Jarad Higgins’ death. An autopsy had not yet been carried out.

Police confirmed to AFP that a 21-year-old man had suffered a medical emergency at Midway International Airport after getting off a private jet.

Celebrity news outlet TMZ reported that Higgins had suffered a seizure.

Juice WRLD’s breakout single “Lucid Dreams,” rose to Number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2018, with his follow-up album “Death Race for Love” debuting in first place on the Billboard 200 the following year.

The rapper was of a generation known as the “SoundCloud rappers” — a subgenre that takes its name from the streaming platform where its artists find fame.

The crop of rappers in recent years has become a disruptive movement in hip hop, combining a lo-fi underground sound with raw, often emotionally laden lyrics leading some to dub them “emo rappers.”

These musicians whose careers are built on internet stardom often rap about popping drugs, notably Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication.

Along with prescription medication the subculture’s aesthetic includes face tattoos and neon-dyed hair.

‘I have a lot going for me’

The scene has launched careers and sales figures but the lives of its figures are often volatile: XXXTentacion was murdered in 2018, while Tekashi69, seeking leniency on serious racketeering and weapons charges, this year was a star government witness at the trial of alleged former gang associates.

And in 2017 the SoundCloud rapper Lil Peep died at age 21 of what was declared an accidental overdose of fentanyl and Xanax.

Speaking to The New York Times in 2018, Juice WRLD said that he used Xanax heavily as a teenager but was aiming to curb his drug use.

“I have a lot going for me, I recognize it’s a lot of big things, a lot of big looks. I want to be there, and you don’t have to overdose to not be there,” he told the Times.

Music and industry insiders took to social media to pay tribute to the rapper upon learning of his shock death.

“Wow, I can not believe this. Rip my brother juice world,” tweeted fellow rapper Lil Yachty.

“rip juice,” tweeted breakout star Lil Nas X.

“so sad how often this is happening lately to young talented rising artists.”

Trump Warns N-Korea Has ‘Everything’ To lose Through Hostile Acts

US President Donald Trump addresses the Israeli American Council National Summit 2019 at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida on December 7, 2019. Mandel NGAN / AFP

 

 

President Donald Trump warned Sunday that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un had “everything” to lose through hostility towards the United States after Pyongyang said it had carried out a major new weapons test.

“Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way,” Trump tweeted in response to the unspecified test at the Sohae space launch center.

The announcement of Saturday’s test came just hours after Trump said he would be “surprised” by any hostile action from the North, emphasizing his “very good relationship” with Kim.

Trump and Kim engaged in months of mutual insults and threats of devastation in 2017, sending tensions soaring before a diplomatic rapprochement the following year.

The pair have met three times since June 2018 but with little progress towards denuclearization. Pyongyang has set Washington a December 31 deadline to make new concessions to kickstart stalled talks.

“North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, has tremendous economic potential, but it must denuclearize as promised,” Trump tweeted. “NATO, China, Russia, Japan, and the entire world is unified on this issue!”

Writing that Kim had “signed a strong Denuclearization Agreement” at their June 2018 summit in Singapore,” Trump warned: “He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States or interfere with the U.S. Presidential Election in November.”

A spokesman for North Korea’s Academy of the National Defense Science said Saturday’s “very important test” would have an “important effect” on changing the “strategic position” of North Korea, in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

The statement did not provide further details on the test.

A senior US administration official earlier said Washington had seen reports of a test and was “coordinating closely with allies and partners.”

Trump indicated that military action was still possible when he was asked about Pyongyang on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Britain this week.

North Korea fired back that if the United States used military force it would take “prompt corresponding actions at any level.”

UN diplomats fear that North Korea will resume long-range nuclear or ballistic tests if no progress is made soon in talks with the United States.

Sohae, on North Korea’s northwest coast, is ostensibly a facility designed for putting satellites into orbit.

But Pyongyang has carried out several rocket launches there that were condemned by the US and others as disguised long-range ballistic missile tests.

Following the Singapore summit, Trump said Kim had agreed to destroy “a major missile engine testing site” without naming the facility.

Kim then agreed to shutter the Sohae site during a summit last year with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang as part of trust-building measures.

Trump, Moon Agree To Continue Talks With North Korea

US President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In during a joint press conference at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on November 7, 2017.  Jim WATSON / AFP

 

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump agreed during a phone conversation to maintain dialogue with the nuclear-armed North, Seoul said Saturday, with the two allies noting the situation had become “grave”. 

Denuclearisation negotiations have been at a standstill since a summit in Hanoi broke up in February and pressure is rising as an end-of-year deadline to offer concessions, set by Pyongyang for Washington, approaches.

The 30-minute talk was the first conversation between the US President and the South Korean leader since they met at the UN General Assembly in New York in September.

“The two leaders shared an assessment that the current situation on the Korean peninsula is grave,” said Ko Min-jung, the spokeswoman of the South’s presidential office.

“They agreed momentum for dialogue to achieve prompt results from denuclearisation negotiations should be continued,” she went on to say, adding that Trump had requested the call.

The discussion came after a week in which exchanges between Trump and North Korea raised the prospect of a return to a war of words, culminating in Pyongyang’s threats to resume referring to the US president as a “dotard” and to take military action if the US military moves against it.

The South Korean leader was instrumental in brokering the landmark summit between Trump and Kim in Singapore last year which produced only a vaguely worded pledge about denuclearisation.

AFP

Navy Shooting: Saudi King Condoles With Trump, Calls Act ‘Barbaric’

File photo: King Salman of Saudi Arabia

 

President Donald Trump said Friday that Saudi Arabia’s king had called to express condolences over what the monarch termed the “barbaric” killing of three people on a US navy base — allegedly by a Saudi national.

“King Salman of Saudi Arabia just called to express his sincere condolences,” Trump tweeted after the shootings in Florida.

“The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people,” Trump added.

Trump repeated much of his comments shortly after, in remarks to reporters at the White House.

sms/ft