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Spy poisoning: How could the UK retaliate against Russia?



BBC — UK Prime Minister Theresa May is braced to take “extensive measures” against Russia should it not offer a credible explanation of how an ex-spy and his daughter were poisoned on British soil with a military-grade nerve agent.

“Should there be no credible response,” Mrs May told parliament, “we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom”.

But what could the UK actually do – both on its own, and with the help of allies? And how likely are the US, EU and others to be on board?

Direct action

Britain could expel Russian diplomats, as it did after the poisoning of former Russian Federal Security Service operative Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 with radioactive polonium.
But many argue that this, and the other measures that were taken after that killing – including visa restrictions on Russian officials – did not go far enough. The man identified as the main suspect, Andrei Lugovoi, is not just at large, he is now a Russian MP.

So what else could the UK do?

  • Expel senior diplomats, perhaps even the Russian ambassador, and known Russian intelligence agents
  • Take some sort of action to bar wealthy Russian oligarchs from accessing their mansions and other luxuries in London, as suggested by Tory MP and House of Commons foreign affairs committee chair Tom Tugendhat. One way this could happen is through the use of Unexplained Wealth Orders, which allow government officials to seize assets including property until they have been properly accounted for
  • A boycott of the Fifa World Cup in Russia later this year by officials and dignitaries – a symbolic move that UK allies are unlikely to emulate
  • Taking Russian broadcasters such as RT (formerly Russia Today) off the air – broadcasting regulator Ofcom has said it will “consider the implications for RT’s broadcast licences” after Mrs May speaks on Wednesday.
  • Pass a British version of the 2012 US Magnitsky act, which punishes Russians involved in corruption and human rights violations with asset freezes and travel bans. It is named after a Russian lawyer who died in custody after revealing alleged fraud by state officials. MPs have been pushing for a Magnitsky amendment to be added to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill now going through Parliament

More EU sanctions?

Current sanctions on Russia that Britain supports are imposed via the European Union. They were first passed after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and backed rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine. Some 150 individuals and 38 companies have been targeted with visa bans and asset freezes.

EU countries are already divided on the sanctions, with diverging views among members states as to how Russia should be treated. States like Hungary, Italy and Greece have all supported the weakening of sanctions.

Some doubt whether Britain could convince the bloc to further toughen its measures against Moscow, especially with the UK on its way out of the Union.

Could Nato act?
By framing the poisoning as a possible “unlawful use of force” by Russia against the UK, Theresa May prompted questions as to whether this could be a matter for Nato, the military alliance of 29 countries.

The alliance’s policy of collective defence – under Article 5 – states that an attack on any one ally is seen as an attack on all.

It was invoked for the first and only time by the United States after the 9/11 attacks in New York.

Lord Ricketts, a former UK national security adviser, told the BBC that such an “unlawful act” warranted the involvement of Nato.

Any action “will be much more effective if there can be a broader, Nato-EU solidarity behind us”, he said.

But Downing Street has played down suggestions that this is an Article 5 matter.

For its part, Nato has called the attack “horrendous and completely unacceptable”. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the incident was of “great concern” to the alliance, which has moved in recent years to deter Russia by sending troops to Poland and the three Baltic states.

Lord Ricketts suggested one option involving Nato could be a reinforcement of resources on the group’s eastern flank.

Are UK’s allies showing support?
The UK could also seek to bring the issue to the UN – and seek to gather international support for action against Russia.

Theresa May has already spoken to France’s President Macron and the two leaders “agreed that it would be important to continue to act in concert with allies”, according to Downing Street. Although Mrs May has not yet spoken to President Trump about the case – there have been “conversations at a senior official level”.

The UK has already internationalised the matter by asking Russia to provide a “full and complete disclosure” of the Novichok nerve agent programme to an international agency, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Indeed, the magnitude of the response that may be announced on Wednesday will depend on the scale of international co-operation that Mrs May can secure, says BBC Diplomatic Correspondent James Landale.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders called the attack an “outrage” and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went further, saying the attack “clearly came from Russia”. President Donald Trump himself has not spoken out.


Royal welcome and noisy protests await Saudi crown prince on UK trip



LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s grand welcome for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will begin on Wednesday with a lunch with Queen Elizabeth, as the two countries seek to widen longstanding defence ties into a far-reaching partnership.

Both sense an opportunity to broaden their existing relationship: Britain is looking for trading partners as it exits the European Union, and Saudi Arabia needs to convince sceptical investors about its domestic reforms.

But as Prince Mohammed and Prime Minister Theresa May meet, demonstrators will protest both countries’ roles in Yemen where war has killed an estimated 10,000 people and where 8.3 million people depend on food aid and 400,000 children have life-threatening levels of malnutrition.

Inside May’s Downing Street offices the two leaders will launch a “UK-Saudi Strategic Partnership Council” – an initiative to encourage Saudi Arabia’s economic reforms and foster more cooperation on issues such as education and culture, as well as defence and security.

“It will usher in a new era of bilateral relations, focused on a partnership that delivers wide-ranging benefits for both of us,” May’s spokesman told reporters.

Britain is vying to land the stock market listing of state oil firm Saudi Aramco, but no decision is expected this week.

Later this month Prince Mohammed visits the United States, which also wants the lucrative listing, although sources said both countries may miss out.

British officials were privately delighted at the decision by Prince Mohammed, 32, to choose Britain as the major western destination on his first foreign trip since becoming heir to the Saudi throne last year.

The British government is keen to transform its historic defence relationship into two-way trade and investment, eyeing both an expanded market in Saudi Arabia for service sector exports, and attracting Saudi cash to finance domestic projects.

Business deals are possible with British defence group BAE Systems and European weapons maker MBDA, and initial agreements could be concluded on gas exploration, petrochemicals and other industries, according to British and Saudi sources.


The three-day visit will include two audiences with the British Royal family, a briefing with national security officials, and a prestigious visit to the prime minister’s country residence.

May intends to use the private dinner at Chequers, a 16th-century manor house 40 miles (60 km) northwest of London, to bring up concerns over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, her spokesman said.

A Saudi-led military coalition is fighting the Houthi movement in Yemen, generating what the United Nation said in January was the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Demonstrators drive a van with a large protest poster on it during a protest against the visit by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in central London, Britain, March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

“You can expect them to discuss Yemen, and the prime minister to raise deep concerns at the humanitarian situation,” May’s spokesman said. “She will also reiterate how seriously we take allegations of violations against international humanitarian law.”

Speaking to reporters in London on Monday, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said his country had failed to effectively communicate the reasons behind its involvement in Yemen, but that they had not chosen to start the war.

Protestors are planning to target the Saudi officials over Yemen and other human rights issues, and Britain for licensing 4.6 billion pounds of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia since 2015.

Buses have spent two days touring London with banners accusing Prince Mohammed of war crimes, with more planned for Wednesday ahead of the main rally.

“It is vital that people show up to the protest tomorrow outside Downing Street to make clear that the UK government’s complicity in the war on Yemen is not supported by the public and that we demand a peaceful and humane foreign policy,” said Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition.

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LONDON: Man ‘deliberately drove’ at Somali woman days after Parsons Green terror attack, court hears



THE TELEGRAPH — A man deliberately tried to kill a Muslim woman by driving his car into her, just days after the Parsons Green terror attack, a court has heard.

Paul Moore is accused of targeting Zaynab Hussein because of the colour of her skin and the fact she was wearing a hijab, five days after the attempted attack in London last September.

The 21-year-old allegedly drove his Volkswagen Up! into Ms Hussein – a Somali national – after spotting her in a Leicester street shortly after 8am on September 20. Witnesses claimed he was laughing at the time.

Just moments later he is accused driving the same vehicle at a 12-year-old schoolgirl, a short distance away in an attempt to cause her serious harm.

The jury was told how Ms Hussein, a Somali national, was struck once and subsequently driven over again moments later during the incident which took place in Leicester.

A jury of seven men and five women at Nottingham Crown Court were told Mr Moore had tried to kill Ms Hussein “purely because of the colour of her skin” and her “perceived Islamic faith”.

The prosecution said four other people were in the car with Moore during the incident and they had begged him to let them out afterwards.

Opening the case against Mr Moore, prosecutor Jonathan Straw said: “(Moore) carefully and deliberately, in an act of calculated evil, aligned his wheels so the front and back wheels were over her (Ms Hussein).

“He did not know her. He tried to kill her purely because of the colour of her skin and because of her perceived Islamic faith as she was wearing a hijab.

“It is no coincidence, we say, that there had been a bomb at Parsons Green Tube station in London, said to have been carried out by sympathisers of Islamic State.”

Mr Straw said it was only thanks to members of the public and medical professionals that Ms Hussein’s life was saved.

He continued: “She had received severe fractures to her pelvis, her spine, and one of the bones in her leg was broken.

“Having deliberately, we say, tried to kill Zaynab Hussein, the defendant then drove at a second victim – a 12-year-old schoolgirl.

“He did not hit her, he brushed her, but it is only by the grace of God and nothing more that she was saved.”

Mr Straw said Moore intended to offer no defence, adding: “It may well be he has no defence. He admits he was the driver.”

In a recorded interview played to the court, Reece Bishop, a passenger in the car at the time of the alleged attack on Ms Hussein, told police: “He was just driving like a maniac. I thought we were going to be dead. He said ‘I feel like running someone over. Anyone.’

“It all happened so fast. He turned the steering wheel and he just hits her out of the blue.”

On the recorded interview with police, Mr Bishop said Moore was laughing as he drove at Ms Hussein.

Mr Moore denies attempted murder, causing grievous bodily harm with intent and dangerous driving.

The trial continues.

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Police abandoned us, say Somalis in wake of London knife killings



The streets start emptying at dusk. “As soon as the sun goes down, the kids come out and take over,” said Abdi Ali. He gestured towards the western end of Queens Crescent, the entrance of Weedington Road, prime turf for the gang that controls this corner of Camden, north London.
There was, until quite recently, a police station nearby that functioned as a community hub. Officers would routinely patrol the neighbourhood, offering reassurance and a reliable stream of intelligence.

But the station closed 18 months ago according to locals and since then the surrounding streets have been commandeered by gangs. Violence, said Ali, had spiralled during the ensuing period.
“Now they are killing each other – it’s been made worse because they’ve started supplying heroin. They don’t even bother with cannabis any more,” said the 32-year-old, who works at his uncle’s grocery store, Banadir Gate.

Ali belongs to the area’s sizeable Somali community, still traumatised by the violent scenes last week that saw two of its younger members killed on Camden’s streets.

Sadiq Adan Mohamed, 20, was stabbed to death on Tuesday evening, 300 metres from Banadir Gate. Less than two hours earlier, Abdikarim Hassan, 17, was found fatally wounded in a nearby street. That followed the stabbing of a 16-year-old, who remains in hospital.

Although an 18-year-old man has been arrested in Camden on suspicion of two counts of murder, a section 60 order remains in place across the borough, allowing officers to stop and search people “with good reason”. Already police have intercepted a number of young men carrying weapons. The police measure, under continual review, remains in place amid fear of reprisal attacks.

Weedington Road had recently become bitterly contested “turf”, according to Ali, with youngsters from Queens Crescent clashing with those from nearby Agar Grove, Chalk Farm and Camden. Congolese teenagers had, he said, teamed up with Irish youngsters to take on the Somalis.

“But the police just drive down here, look around and drive on. Since the police left us it’s been terrible,” said Ali, whose family fled Mogadishu and the country’s civil war in 2003.

Other Somalis describe a “security vacuum” that has left them effectively abandoned by the police and, more broadly, the state. “Kids around here don’t feel safe, the police aren’t doing enough,” said Abshir Mohamed, whose parents also fled the Somali civil war for London in 1988.

“There’s lots of money for Prevent [the government’s counter-radicalisation strategy] and for counter-terrorism which can target the Somali community, but then you have younger members of our community being targeted by knife crime. There’s a sense that Somalis are not being protected.” Mohamed, who is a youth volunteer for the Kentish Town Community Centre, and meets many of the area’s young Somalis, said trust in the police among youngsters had ebbed away. “If a young man gets threatened and he’s told: ‘The next time I see you I’ll stab you’, they don’t tell the police. They just carry a knife. They are not safe.”

Mohamed said that Camden borough’s police commander had held a meeting in the community centre in the aftermath of Tuesday’s stabbings to address security concerns.

“He said they had collected a lot of knives in the area through section 60, but when we asked them why didn’t they do more, he just said [there had been] funding cuts. Every time we ask why they don’t do more patrols around here, they just respond by saying cutbacks [were to blame].”

Ismail Einashe, a journalist born in Somalia who used to live in Camden, said that such distrust was compounded by the sense that not only had the state failed to protect them, but that many felt the justice system too easily criminalised them. “And then you add austerity – cuts in youth services and police numbers – to the mix and you create a really toxic environment.”

Mohamed, who also works as a primary school teacher in the area, said when he was growing up he looked forward to five-a-side football and adventure trips that were arranged to occupy them. “They were the good old days, now they’ve got nothing. There’s nothing for them to do anymore,” he said.

A fear of being stabbed had also prevented many of the neighbourhood’s adults from confronting the youngsters who congregated in the area. Mohamed, 33, said many felt powerless.

“If an adult tries to engage with a youth, they just pull out a knife. I’ve seen that with 10-year-olds. You can’t touch them,” said Mohamed.

A young mother waiting at a local bus stop agreed. “We’ve ended up in a place where the kids have nowhere to go, they end up on the streets and that’s where the problems start,” she said, requesting anonymity as she gripped her young son’s hand.

For Mohamed, a daily witness to the alienation facing many of London’s young British Somalis, there is, however, one silver lining. “Thank God we don’t have [many] guns in the UK.”

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