Germany, Netherlands Arrest 9 over Alleged Plan for Attacks in Line with ISIS

The sun rises over the city of Wehrheim near Frankfurt, Germany, Thursday, July 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
The sun rises over the city of Wehrheim near Frankfurt, Germany, Thursday, July 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
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Germany, Netherlands Arrest 9 over Alleged Plan for Attacks in Line with ISIS

The sun rises over the city of Wehrheim near Frankfurt, Germany, Thursday, July 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
The sun rises over the city of Wehrheim near Frankfurt, Germany, Thursday, July 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

Nine people from central Asia were arrested in Germany and the Netherlands on Thursday in connection to alleged plans to carry out attacks in Germany in line with ISIS’ ideology, authorities said.

Seven men arrested in Germany are accused of founding a militant group and of supporting ISIS, German federal prosecutors said. All had known each other for a long time, had radical views and came to Germany more or less simultaneously from Ukraine shortly after Russia launched its full-scale invasion last year, they added.

A year ago, the suspects allegedly formed a group that aimed to carry out attacks in Germany. According to prosecutors, the group was in contact with an ISIS offshoot, ISIS Khorasan Province.

Its members had checked out possible targets in Germany and attempted to procure weapons, but “there was no concrete plan for an attack at the time of today's arrest," The Associated Press quoted prosecutors as saying in a statement. All but one of the men arrested in Germany had been collecting money for ISIS since April 2022 and transferring it to the group, they added.

In the Netherlands, the public prosecution service said that a 29-year-old Tajik man and his 31-year-old Kyrgyz wife, who had been living in the country since last year, were arrested on suspicion of committing preparatory acts for attacks. The man is also suspected of membership in ISIS.

Police suspect that the man “was given the order to plot a terrorist attack,” the prosecution service said in a statement. It said the plans were serious enough for prosecutors to intervene, although they were “not yet concrete.” German prosecutors said the man arrested in the Netherlands belonged to the group formed by the other suspects.

The arrests in Germany were made in various locations in North Rhine-Westphalia state, which borders the Netherlands. German prosecutors identified the men arrested there as Turkmen citizen Ata A., Kyrgyz national Abrorjon K., and Tajik citizens Mukhammadshujo A., Nuriddin K., Shamshud N., Said S. and Raboni Z.

Their full names weren't released in line with German privacy rules.



Blinken Begins Key China Visit as Tensions Rise Over New US Foreign Aid Bill 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves upon his arrival in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. (Reuters)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves upon his arrival in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. (Reuters)
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Blinken Begins Key China Visit as Tensions Rise Over New US Foreign Aid Bill 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves upon his arrival in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. (Reuters)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves upon his arrival in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. (Reuters)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has begun a critical trip to China armed with a strengthened diplomatic hand following Senate approval of a foreign aid package that will provide billions of dollars in assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan as well as force TikTok’s China-based parent company to sell the social media platform - all areas of contention between Washington and Beijing.

Blinken arrived in Shanghai on Wednesday just hours after the Senate vote on the long-stalled legislation and shortly before President Joe Biden is expected to sign it into law to demonstrate US resolve in defending its allies and partners. Passage of the bill will add further complications to an already complex relationship that has been strained by disagreements over numerous global and regional disputes.

Still, the fact that Blinken is making the trip — shortly after a conversation between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, a similar visit to China by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and a call between the US and Chinese defense chiefs — is a sign the two sides are at least willing to discuss their differences.

Of primary interest to China, the bill sets aside $8 billion to counter Chinese threats in Taiwan and the broader Indo-Pacific and gives China’s ByteDance nine months to sell TikTok with a possible three-month extension if a sale is in progress. China has railed against US assistance to Taiwan, which it regards as a renegade province, and immediately condemned the move as a dangerous provocation. It also strongly opposes efforts to force TikTok’s sale.

The bill also allots $26 billion in wartime assistance to Israel and humanitarian relief to Palestinians in Gaza, and $61 billion for Ukraine to defend itself from Russia’s invasion. The Biden administration has been disappointed in China’s response to the war in Gaza and has complained loudly that Chinese support for Russia’s military-industrial sector has allowed Moscow to subvert Western sanctions and ramp up attacks on Ukraine.

Even before Blinken landed in Shanghai — where he will have meetings on Thursday before traveling to Beijing — China’s Taiwan Affairs Office slammed the assistance to Taipei, saying it “seriously violates” US commitments to China, “sends a wrong signal to the Taiwan independence separatist forces” and pushes the self-governing island republic into a “dangerous situation.”

China and the United States are the major players in the Indo-Pacific and Washington has become increasingly alarmed by Beijing’s growing aggressiveness in recent years toward Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries with which it has significant territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

The US has strongly condemned Chinese military exercises threatening Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province and has vowed to reunify with the mainland by force if necessary. Successive US administrations have steadily boosted military support and sales for Taiwan, much to Chinese anger.

A senior State Department official said last week that Blinken would “underscore, both in private and public, America’s abiding interest in maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. We think that is vitally important for the region and the world.”

In the South China Sea, the US and others have become increasingly concerned by provocative Chinese actions in and around disputed areas.

In particular, the US has voiced objections to what it says are Chinese attempts to thwart legitimate maritime activities by others in the sea, notably the Philippines and Vietnam. That was a major topic of concern this month when Biden held a three-way summit with the prime minister of Japan and the president of the Philippines.

On Ukraine, which US officials say will be a primary topic of conversation during Blinken’s visit, the Biden administration said that Chinese support has allowed Russia to largely reconstitute its defense industrial base, affecting not only the war in Ukraine but posing a threat to broader European security.

“If China purports on the one hand to want good relations with Europe and other countries, it can’t on the other hand be fueling what is the biggest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War,” Blinken said last week.

China says it has the right to trade with Russia and accuses the US of fanning the flames by arming and funding Ukraine. “It is extremely hypocritical and irresponsible for the US to introduce a large-scale aid bill for Ukraine while making groundless accusations against normal economic and trade exchanges between China and Russia,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Tuesday.

On the Middle East, US officials, from Biden on down, have repeatedly appealed to China to use any leverage it may have with Iran to prevent Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza from spiraling into a wider regional conflict.

While China appears to have been generally receptive to such calls — particularly because it depends heavily on oil imports from Iran and other Mideast nations — tensions have steadily increased since the beginning of the Gaza war in October and more recent direct strikes and counterstrikes between Israel and Iran.

Blinken has pushed for China to take a more active stance in pressing Iran not to escalate tensions in the Middle East. He has spoken to his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, several times urging China to tell Iran to restrain the proxy groups it has supported in the region, including Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthis and Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria.

The senior State Department official said Blinken would reiterate the US interest in China using “whatever channels or influence it has to try to convey the need for restraint to all parties, including Iran.”


China Blasts US Military Aid to Taiwan, Saying the Island Is Entering a ‘Dangerous Situation’ 

A view of the US Capitol Building in the late afternoon in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024. (EPA)
A view of the US Capitol Building in the late afternoon in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024. (EPA)
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China Blasts US Military Aid to Taiwan, Saying the Island Is Entering a ‘Dangerous Situation’ 

A view of the US Capitol Building in the late afternoon in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024. (EPA)
A view of the US Capitol Building in the late afternoon in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024. (EPA)

China on Wednesday blasted the latest package of US military assistance to Taiwan on Wednesday, saying that such funding was pushing the self-governing island republic into a “dangerous situation.”

The US Senate late Tuesday passed $95 billion in war aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan after months of delays and contentious debate over how involved the United States should be in foreign wars. China claims the entire island of Taiwan as its own territory and has threatened to take it by force if necessary.

The mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office said the aid “seriously violates” US commitments to China and “sends a wrong signal to the Taiwan independence separatist forces.”

Office spokesperson Zhu Fenglian added that Taiwan’s ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, which won a third four-year presidential term in January, is willing to “become a pawn for external forces to use Taiwan to contain China, bringing Taiwan into a dangerous situation.”

On Tuesday, Taiwan’s President-elect Lai Ching-te told a visiting US Congressional delegation that the aid package would “strengthen the deterrence against authoritarianism in the West Pacific ally chain” and “help ensure peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and also boost confidence in the region.”

The package has had broad congressional support since Biden first requested the money last summer. But congressional leaders had to navigate strong opposition from a growing number of conservatives who question US involvement in foreign wars and argue that Congress should be focused instead on the surge of migration at the US-Mexico border.

The package covers a wide range of parts and services aimed at maintaining and upgrading Taiwan’s military hardware. Separately, Taiwan has signed billions in contracts with the US for latest-generation F-16V fighter jets, M1 Abrams main battle tanks and the HIMARS rocket system, which the US has also supplied to Ukraine.

Taiwan has also been expanding its own defense industry, building submarines and trainer jets. Next month, it plans to commission its third and fourth domestically designed and built stealth corvettes to counter the Chinese navy as part of a strategy of asymmetrical warfare, in which a smaller force counters its larger opponent by using cutting edge or nonconventional tactics and weaponry.

China launches daily incursions into waters and airspace around Taiwan by navy ships and warplanes. It has also sought to pick away Taiwan’s few remaining formal diplomatic partners.

However, only two People's Liberation Army Air Force planes and seven navy vessels were found operating in areas around Taiwan between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, possibly as a result of heavy rainstorms and low visibility overnight along the island's west coast facing China.

At times of heightened tensions, China has launched dozens of such missions over a 24-hour period, many of them crossing the center line in the Taiwan Strait dividing the sides or entering Taiwan's air defense identification zone.


Iran, Pakistan Urge Security Council to Take Action Against Israel

HANDOUT - 22 April 2024, Pakistan, Islamabad: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (R) receives Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi ahead of their talks. Photo: -/Iranian Presidency/dpa
HANDOUT - 22 April 2024, Pakistan, Islamabad: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (R) receives Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi ahead of their talks. Photo: -/Iranian Presidency/dpa
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Iran, Pakistan Urge Security Council to Take Action Against Israel

HANDOUT - 22 April 2024, Pakistan, Islamabad: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (R) receives Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi ahead of their talks. Photo: -/Iranian Presidency/dpa
HANDOUT - 22 April 2024, Pakistan, Islamabad: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (R) receives Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi ahead of their talks. Photo: -/Iranian Presidency/dpa

Iran and Pakistan called on the United Nations Security Council in a joint statement issued on Wednesday to take action against Israel, saying it had "illegally" targeted neighboring countries and foreign diplomatic facilities.
The joint statement, released by Pakistan's foreign ministry, followed a three-day visit to the country by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at a time of heightened tensions in the Middle East.
Explosions were heard last Friday over the Iranian city of Isfahan in what sources said was an Israeli attack. However, Tehran played down the incident and said it had no plans for retaliation.
"Recognizing that the irresponsible act of the Israeli regime forces was a major escalation in an already volatile region, both sides called on the UN Security Council to prevent the Israeli regime from its adventurism in the region and its illegal acts attacking its neighbors...," Iran and Pakistan said in their joint statement, according to Reuters.
Iran and Pakistan are seeking to mend ties after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes this year.
Raisi, who wrapped up his visit and flew on to Sri Lanka on Wednesday, vowed to boost trade between Iran and Pakistan to $10 billion a year.
During his visit to Pakistan, Raisi was quoted by Iran's official IRNA news agency as saying any further Israeli attack on Iranian territory could radically change the dynamics and result in there being nothing left of the "Zionist regime".
On April 13, Tehran launched a barrage of missiles and drones at Israel in what it said was retaliation for Israel's suspected deadly strike on the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus on April 1, but almost all were shot down.
Pakistan has previously called for de-escalation by "all parties".
Iran and Pakistan vowed during Raisi's visit to boost trade and energy cooperation, including on a major gas pipeline deal that has faced delays due to geopolitical issues and international sanctions.


US Senate Passes TikTok Divestment-or-Ban Bill, Biden Set to Make It Law 

 This photo illustration taken on September 14, 2020 shows the logo of the social network application TikTok (top) and a US flag (bottom) shown on the screens of two laptops in Beijing. (AFP)
This photo illustration taken on September 14, 2020 shows the logo of the social network application TikTok (top) and a US flag (bottom) shown on the screens of two laptops in Beijing. (AFP)
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US Senate Passes TikTok Divestment-or-Ban Bill, Biden Set to Make It Law 

 This photo illustration taken on September 14, 2020 shows the logo of the social network application TikTok (top) and a US flag (bottom) shown on the screens of two laptops in Beijing. (AFP)
This photo illustration taken on September 14, 2020 shows the logo of the social network application TikTok (top) and a US flag (bottom) shown on the screens of two laptops in Beijing. (AFP)

The US Senate voted by a wide margin late Tuesday in favor of legislation that would ban TikTok in the United States if its owner, the Chinese tech firm ByteDance, fails to divest the popular short video app over the next nine months to a year.

Driven by widespread worries among US lawmakers that China could access Americans' data or surveil them with the app, the bill was passed by the US House of Representatives on Saturday and US President Joe Biden has said he will sign it into law on Wednesday.

"For years we've allowed the Chinese Communist party to control one of the most popular apps in America that was dangerously shortsighted," said Senator Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee. "A new law is going to require its Chinese owner to sell the app. This is a good move for America."

The four-year battle over TikTok, which is used by 170 million people in the United States, is just one front in a war over the internet and technology between Washington and Beijing. Last week, Apple said Beijing had ordered it to remove Meta Platforms' WhatsApp and Threads from its App Store in China over Chinese national security concerns.

TikTok is set to challenge the bill on First Amendment grounds and TikTok users are also expected to again take legal action. A US judge in Montana in November blocked a state ban on TikTok, citing free speech grounds.

The American Civil Liberties Union said banning or requiring divestiture of TikTok would "set an alarming global precedent for excessive government control over social media platforms. ...If the United States now bans a foreign-owned platform, that will invite copycat measures by other countries."

TikTok, which says it has not shared and would not share US user data with the Chinese government, did not immediately comment but has told employees it would quickly go to court to try to block the legislation.

"This is the beginning, not the end of this long process," TikTok told staff on Saturday in an email seen by Reuters.

The Senate voted 79 to 18 in favor of the bill, which was attached to a measure to provide $95 billion in mostly military aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. The TikTok divestment directive won fast-track approval after being introduced just weeks ago.

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump was blocked by the courts in his bid to block TikTok and Chinese-owned WeChat, a unit of Tencent, in the United States.

However, the new legislation is likely to give the Biden administration a stronger legal footing to ban TikTok if ByteDance fails to divest the app, experts say.

If ByteDance failed to divest TikTok, app stores operated by Apple, Alphabet's Google and others could not legally offer TikTok or provide web hosting services to ByteDance-controlled applications or TikTok's website.

The bill would also give the White House new tools to ban or force the sale of other foreign-owned apps it deems to be security threats.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said he was concerned the bill "provides broad authority that could be abused by a future administration to violate Americans’ First Amendment rights."

Once the bill is signed into law, ByteDance will have 270 days to divest TikTok's US operations with a possible three-month extension if there are signs a deal is progressing.

Democratic Senator Ed Markey said it would be hard, if not impossible, for ByteDance to divest by early 2025, adding that a sale would be one of the most complicated and expensive transactions in history, requiring months if not years of due diligence.

"We should be very clear about the likely outcome of this law. It's really just a TikTok ban," he said. "Censorship is not who we are as a people. We should not downplay or deny this trade-off."

The bill could also be an issue in the November presidential campaign, with Republican presidential candidate Trump urging young voters to consider a possible TikTok ban.


Arrests Follow Barricades and Encampments as College Students Nationwide Protest Gaza War 

Pro-Palestinian supporters rally inside Columbia University on April 24, 2024 in New York City. (Getty Images/AFP)
Pro-Palestinian supporters rally inside Columbia University on April 24, 2024 in New York City. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Arrests Follow Barricades and Encampments as College Students Nationwide Protest Gaza War 

Pro-Palestinian supporters rally inside Columbia University on April 24, 2024 in New York City. (Getty Images/AFP)
Pro-Palestinian supporters rally inside Columbia University on April 24, 2024 in New York City. (Getty Images/AFP)

Standoffs between pro-Palestinian student protesters and universities grew increasingly tense on both coasts Wednesday as hundreds encamped at Columbia University faced a deadline from the administration to clear out while dozens remained barricaded inside two buildings on a Northern California college campus.

Both are part of intensifying demonstrations over Israel’s war with Hamas by university students across the country demanding that schools cut financial ties to Israel and divest from companies that are enabling its months long conflict. Dozens have been arrested on charges of trespassing or disorderly conduct.

Columbia's President Minouche Shafik in a statement Tuesday set a midnight deadline to reach an agreement with students to clear the encampment, or “we will have to consider alternative options.”

That deadline passed without news of an agreement. Videos show some protesters taking down their tents while others doubled down in speeches. Rumors spread online that the deadline had been pushed to the morning, but the university declined to comment on whether that was true. The heightened tension arrived the night before US House Speaker Mike Johnson's trip to Columbia to visit with Jewish students and address antisemitism on college campuses.

Across the country, protesters at California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, some 300 miles (480 kilometers) north of San Francisco, started using furniture, tents, chains and zip ties to block the building's entrances Monday evening.

“We are not afraid of you!” the protesters chanted before officers in riot gear pushed into them at the building's entrance, video shows. Student Peyton McKinzie said she was walking on campus Monday when she saw police grabbing one woman by the hair, and another student having their head bandaged for an injury.

“I think a lot of students are in shock about it,” she told The Associated Press.

Three students have been arrested, according to a statement from Cal Poly Humboldt, which shutdown the campus until Wednesday. An unknown number of students had occupied a second campus building Tuesday.

The upwelling of demonstrations has left universities struggling to balance campus safety with free speech rights. Many long tolerated the protests, which largely demanded that schools condemn Israel's assault on Gaza and divest from companies that sell weapons to Israel.

Now, universities are doling out more heavy-handed discipline, citing safety concerns as some Jewish students say criticism of Israel has veered into antisemitism.

Protests had been bubbling for months but kicked into a higher gear after more than 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators who had camped out on Columbia’s upper Manhattan campus were arrested Thursday.

By late Monday at New York University, police said 133 protesters were taken into custody and all had been released with summonses to appear in court on disorderly conduct charges.

In Connecticut, police arrested 60 protesters — including 47 students — at Yale, after they refused to leave an encampment on a plaza at the center of campus.

Yale President Peter Salovey said protesters had declined an offer to end the demonstration and meet with trustees. After several warnings, school officials determined “the situation was no longer safe,” so police cleared the encampment and made arrests.

In the Midwest on Tuesday, a demonstration at the center of the University of Michigan campus had grown to nearly 40 tents, and nine anti-war protesters at the University of Minnesota were arrested after police took down an encampment in front of the library. Hundreds rallied to the Minnesota campus in the afternoon to demand their release.

Harvard University in Massachusetts has tried to stay a step ahead of protests by locking most gates into its famed Harvard Yard and limiting access to those with school identification. The school has also posted signs that warn against setting up tents or tables on campus without permission.

Literature Ph.D. student Christian Deleon said he understood why the Harvard administration may be trying to avoid protests but said there still has to be a place for students to express what they think.

“We should all be able to use these kinds of spaces to protest, to make our voices heard,” he said.

Ben Wizner, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said college leaders face extremely tough decisions because they have a responsibility to ensure people can express their views, even when others find them offensive, while protecting students from threats and intimidation.

The New York Civil Liberties Union cautioned universities against being too quick to call in law enforcement in a statement Tuesday.

“Officials should not conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism or use hate incidents as a pretext to silence political views they oppose,” said Donna Lieberman, the group’s executive director.

Leo Auerbach, a student at the University of Michigan, said the differing stances on the war hadn’t led to his feeling unsafe on campus but he has been fearful of the “hateful rhetoric and antisemitic sentiment being echoed.”

“If we’re trying to create an inclusive community on campus, there needs to be constructive dialogue between groups,” Auerbach said. “And right now, there’s no dialogue that is occurring.”

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, physics senior Hannah Didehbani said protesters were inspired by those at Columbia.

“Right now there are several professors on campus who are getting direct research funding from Israel’s ministry of defense,” she said. “We’ve been calling for MIT to cut those research ties.”

Protesters at the University of California, Berkeley, which had an encampment of about 30 tents Tuesday, were also inspired by Columbia’s demonstrators, “who we consider to be the heart of the student movement,” said law student Malak Afaneh.

Campus protests began after Hamas’ deadly attack on southern Israel, when militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. During the ensuing war, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the local health ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and noncombatants but says at least two-thirds of the dead are children and women.


NKorea Sends Delegation to Iran in Growing Effort to Break Diplomatic Isolation

People buy spices and dried fruits at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, on April 21, 2024. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)
People buy spices and dried fruits at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, on April 21, 2024. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)
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NKorea Sends Delegation to Iran in Growing Effort to Break Diplomatic Isolation

People buy spices and dried fruits at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, on April 21, 2024. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)
People buy spices and dried fruits at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, on April 21, 2024. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)

A high-level North Korean economic delegation was in Iran on Wednesday, the North's state media said, for what would be the two countries’ first known talks since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pyongyang's delegation led by Yun Jung Ho, North Korea’s minster of external economic relations, flew out Tuesday for the trip to Iran, official Korean Central News Agency said.

Pyongyang and Tehran are among the few governments in the world that support Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and both have been accused of providing Russia with military equipment.

The last known time North Korea sent senior officials to Iran was in August 2019, when a group led by Pak Chol Min, vice chair of Pyongyang’s rubber-stamp parliament, made a weeklong visit. The two countries had active diplomatic exchanges until North Korea sealed its borders in an effort to stave off the pandemic, before a cautious reopening in 2023.

North Korea has made efforts for months to boost the visibility of its ties with Russia and China as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attempts to break out of diplomatic isolation and join a united front against the US.

In 2023, Kim visited Russia’s Far East for a rare summit with Putin, which highlighted the countries’ expanding military cooperation, including the North’s alleged transfers of artillery shells, missiles, and other munitions to Russia.

Earlier this month, Kim hosted top Chinese official Zhao Leji, who heads the ceremonial parliament and ranks third in the ruling Communist Party hierarchy. It was the highest-level meeting between the countries in years.


Zelenskiy Says Aid Approval to Ukraine Reinforces US Role as ‘Beacon of Democracy

Supporters of Ukraine hold flags outside the US Capitol Building after the Senate passed the 95 billion USD national security supplemental that includes aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024.  EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS
Supporters of Ukraine hold flags outside the US Capitol Building after the Senate passed the 95 billion USD national security supplemental that includes aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024. EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS
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Zelenskiy Says Aid Approval to Ukraine Reinforces US Role as ‘Beacon of Democracy

Supporters of Ukraine hold flags outside the US Capitol Building after the Senate passed the 95 billion USD national security supplemental that includes aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024.  EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS
Supporters of Ukraine hold flags outside the US Capitol Building after the Senate passed the 95 billion USD national security supplemental that includes aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024. EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Wednesday that the US Senate's approval of a multi-billion aid package for Ukraine reinforces America's role as a "beacon of democracy."

"I am grateful to the US Senate for (Tuesday's) approval of vital aid to Ukraine," Zelenskiy said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.
"This vote reinforces America's role as a beacon of democracy and leader of the free world."

The Senate approved by 79 to 18 four bills passed by the House of Representatives on Saturday, after House Republican leaders abruptly switched course last week and allowed a vote on the $95 billion in mostly military aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan and US partners in the Indo-Pacific.

The four bills were combined into one package in the Senate, which President Joe Biden said he would sign into law on Wednesday.

The largest provides $61 billion in critically needed funding for Ukraine; a second provides $26 billion for Israel and humanitarian aid for civilians in conflict zones around the world, and a third mandates $8.12 billion to "counter communist China" in the Indo-Pacific.
A fourth, which the House added to the package last week, includes a potential ban on the Chinese-controlled social media app TikTok, measures for the transfer of seized Russian assets to Ukraine and new sanctions on Iran.
Biden's administration is already preparing a $1 billion military aid package for Ukraine, the first sourced from the bill, two US officials told Reuters. It includes vehicles, Stinger air defense munitions, additional ammunition for high-mobility artillery rocket systems, 155 millimeter artillery ammunition, TOW and Javelin anti-tank munitions and other weapons that can immediately be put to use on the battlefield.


Iran's Israel Strike Coincided with Crackdown on Dissent at Home

Iranian women walk on a street amid the implementation of the new hijab surveillance in Tehran, Iran, April 15, 2023. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File photo
Iranian women walk on a street amid the implementation of the new hijab surveillance in Tehran, Iran, April 15, 2023. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File photo
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Iran's Israel Strike Coincided with Crackdown on Dissent at Home

Iranian women walk on a street amid the implementation of the new hijab surveillance in Tehran, Iran, April 15, 2023. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File photo
Iranian women walk on a street amid the implementation of the new hijab surveillance in Tehran, Iran, April 15, 2023. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File photo

The same day Iran launched its first ever direct attack on Israel it embarked on a less-noticed confrontation at home, ordering police in several cities to take to the streets to arrest women accused of flouting its strict Islamic dress code.

Iranian authorities insist that their so-called Nour (Light) campaign targets businesses and individuals who defy the hijab law, aiming to respond to demands from devout citizens who are angry about the growing number of unveiled women in public.

But activists and some politicians told Reuters the campaign appears aimed not only at enforcing mandatory hijab-wearing, but also at discouraging any wider dissent at a vulnerable moment for the clerical rulers.

The government of hardliner President Ibrahim Raisi intensified implementation of the hijab laws, which oblige women to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes. Offenders face public rebuke, fines or arrest.

The laws have become a political flashpoint since protests over the death of a young woman in the custody of the country's “morality police” in 2022 spiraled into the worst political turmoil since the 1979 Revolution.

In a show of civil disobedience, unveiled women have frequently appeared in public since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. Security forces violently put down the subsequent revolt, which called for the government's downfall.

As Iran's drone and missile assault unfolded on April 13, Tehran Police chief Abbasali Mohammadian went on state TV to announce the new campaign.

ARRESTS

“Starting today, Police in Tehran and other cities will carry out measures against those who violate the hijab law,” he said, while hundreds of police swept onto the streets of the capital and other cities.

Social media users posted pictures of a heavy morality police presence in Tehran and videos of police violently arresting women they alleged were improperly dressed, including plainclothes security forces dragging young women into police vans.

Morality police vans had largely vanished from the streets since last year.

The campaign rapidly drew public expressions of unease.

Concerned about what they say could be a deepening rift between the establishment and society at large, some politicians have criticized the intensified crackdown.

Reformist politician Azar Mansouri posted on social media platform X, “... right at a time when national solidarity is more crucial than ever, the same ugly scenes (witnessed during the protests) are intensifying with more violence against Iranian women and girls! What kind of policy is this?”

Former Labor minister Ali Rabeie posted on his X account: “I really don't understand when Iranian people feel good and are proud about confronting Israel, suddenly a group (of decision makers) push the society towards confrontation with the establishment?”

Some others suspect the campaign had a political motive.

A human rights activist in Tehran said the move was aimed at “injecting fear into society to prevent any anti-war protests and quell domestic dissent when the rulers are at war with Israel.”

TOUGHER STANCE

The activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, said, “It is no coincidence that on the very day of the attack on Israel, police flooded the streets. They were concerned about the resurgence of unrest.”

The prospect of a war with Israel, after a series of tit-for-tat retaliation between the arch foes, has alarmed many ordinary Iranians already facing an array of problems, ranging from economic misery to tightening social and political controls after the nationwide unrest in 2022-23.

A former moderate government official said the clerical rulers had adopted a tougher stance against voices calling for political and social changes, fearing that such views could gain traction at a time when Iran is under external pressure.

“That is part of the rulers' strategy to consolidate their grip on power when the country faces threats from its arch enemy Israel,” said the former official.

An Iranian politician, a former lawmaker, said “it is not just about cracking down on women who violate the dress code. In the past days, we have witnessed a clear crackdown on any sign of dissent.”

Journalists, lawyers, activists, human rights advocates and students have been arrested, summoned or faced other measures in the past days, according to opposition news websites.

Those websites said the primary charge against those arrested was “inciting public opinion.”

On April 14, the intelligence unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guards warned against any pro-Israeli posts by social media users, state media reported.


IAEA: Iran is Weeks Away from Having Enough Enriched Uranium to Develop Nuclear Bomb

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) attends an IAEA Board of Governors meeting at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria on April 11, 2024. (AFP)
Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) attends an IAEA Board of Governors meeting at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria on April 11, 2024. (AFP)
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IAEA: Iran is Weeks Away from Having Enough Enriched Uranium to Develop Nuclear Bomb

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) attends an IAEA Board of Governors meeting at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria on April 11, 2024. (AFP)
Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) attends an IAEA Board of Governors meeting at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria on April 11, 2024. (AFP)

Head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi has warned that Iran is “weeks rather than months” away from having enough enriched uranium to develop a nuclear bomb.

Grossi told the German Deutsche Welle channel Tuesday that although uranium enrichment at near weapons-grade levels is a cause for alarm, one cannot draw the direct conclusion that Iran now has a nuclear weapon.

“That does not mean that Iran has or would have a nuclear weapon in that space of time,” he added.

The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said “a functional nuclear warhead requires many other things independently from the production of the fissile material,” adding that Iran’s nuclear goals are “a matter of speculation.”

Iran has been enriching uranium to up to 60 percent purity since April 2021 in the Natanz and Fordow facilities.

The latest report issued by Grossi said Iran’s total stock of nuclear material stands at 27 times the limit agreed in the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal.

At the end of 2023, the IAEA warned that Tehran already had enough material to make three nuclear bombs if it enriches the material now at 60% to beyond 60%.

On Tuesday, Grossi said the IAEA is not getting the level of access he believes it needs in Iran, which he said added more to the speculation around Tehran's nuclear program.

“I have been telling my Iranian counterparts time and again [...] this activity raises eyebrows and compounded with the fact that we are not getting the necessary degree of access and visibility that I believe should be necessary,” he said.

“When you put all of that together, then, of course, you end up with lots of question marks.”

Grossi then highlighted unresolved IAEA findings, including traces of enriched uranium in unexpected locations, exacerbating doubts about Iran's transparency.

“This has been at the center of this dialogue that I have been and I am still trying to conduct with Iran,” he explained.

Grossi is expected to issue a report on Iran’s nuclear activities next month, weeks before the IAEA Board of Governors meet in Vienna.

Grossi wanted to visit Tehran in February ahead of the regular meeting of the Agency’s Board of Governors in March.

Instead, Iran invited the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog to a conference in Tehran in May.

Turning to the escalating tensions between Israel and Iran, Grossi condemned any notion of attacking nuclear facilities.

“Attacking nuclear facilities is an absolute no-go,” he said.

Reacting to reports of talks between the United States and Iran, the IAEA chief said his agency always tries to promote dialogue.

Meanwhile, Iranian lawmaker Javad Karimi Ghoddusi said Iran is only “a one-week gap from the issuance of the order to the first test” of a nuclear bomb, if instructed to do so by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Ghoddusi’s statement came hours after Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani denied any intention by his country to change the course of its nuclear program. “Nuclear weapons have no place in our nuclear doctrine,” the spokesperson said.


Argentina Asks Interpol to Arrest Iran Minister over Jewish Center Bombing

Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi during a press conference. Reuters
Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi during a press conference. Reuters
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Argentina Asks Interpol to Arrest Iran Minister over Jewish Center Bombing

Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi during a press conference. Reuters
Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi during a press conference. Reuters

Argentina has asked Interpol to arrest Iran's interior minister over the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people, the foreign ministry said Tuesday.

The Iranian minister, Ahmad Vahidi, is part of a delegation from Tehran currently visiting Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and Interpol has issued a red alert seeking his arrest at the request of Argentina, the ministry said in a statement.

Argentina has also asked those two governments to arrest Vahidi, it added, according to Agence France Presse.

On April 12, a court in Argentina placed blame on Iran for the 1994 attack against the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires and for a bombing two years earlier against the Israeli embassy, which killed 29 people.

The 1994 assault has never been claimed or solved, but Argentina and Israel have long suspected the Iran-backed group Hezbollah carried it out at Iran's request.

Prosecutors have charged top Iranian officials with ordering the attack, though Tehran has denied any involvement.

The court also implicated Hezbollah and called the attack against the AMIA -- the deadliest in Argentina's history -- a "crime against humanity."

Tuesday's statement from the foreign ministry said: "Argentina seeks the international arrest of those responsible for the AMIA attack of 1994, which killed 85 people, and who remain in their positions with total impunity."

"One of them is Ahmad Vahidi, sought by Argentine justice as one of those responsible for the attack against AMIA," said the statement, which was co-signed by the security ministry.

Argentina has previously stated that Vahidi, a former senior member of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, is one of the key masterminds of the AMIA bombing and sought his extradition.