Mosul offensive: Iraqi army battles for outskirts of IS city

Media captionQuentin Sommerville: Iraqi forces “within sight” of Mosul

Iraqi government forces have moved closer to the southern outskirts of western Mosul, on the second day of a fresh offensive against so-called Islamic State.

The outlying village of Abu Saif, which overlooks Mosul, has been hit by air strikes and helicopter gunships as the military advanced.

Iraqi forces have now entered Abu Saif.

The eastern part of Mosul was liberated from IS fighters last month after heavy fighting.

Abu Saif, which overlooks Mosul’s airport, is seen as a key IS stronghold on the southern approach to western Mosul.

The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville, who is embedded with government troops, said Iraqi forces had faced stiffer resistance inside the village, coming under rocket fire in their first advance.

The bodies of some IS fighters had been seen by the roadside to the village, apparently hit by mortar fire or other artillery.

An army vehicle with its front ruined an smoking from an explosion is seen at the front of a convoy, as soldiers examine the damage.
Image captionOur correspondent said this vehicle was hit by a rocket attack as troops entered the town

Progress has been slowed down by improvised bombs planted by IS along the route of the offensive, he said. But the army seized several villages on Sunday, when it launched its fresh offensive.

No civilians had been spotted until the army reached Abu Saif – when a small group waving a white flag was seen, our correspondent added.

Other government forces have been moving towards the Ghazlani military base, which they plan to use as a staging post for the attack on western Mosul itself.

On Monday, US Defence Secretary James Mattis arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit.

Mosul map of lines of control

He told reporters the US military was “not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil”, seemingly to allay concerns after Donald Trump said last month that the US “should have kept the oil” when it pulled troops out of Iraq in 2011.

Thousands of Iraqi troops, backed by artillery and air power, are involved in the assault to retake Mosul.


On the ground with Iraqi forces

Soldier carries a portable artillery cannon to the top of a ruined building
Image captionMosul airport lies just two miles beyond Abu Saif

The embedded Quentin Sommerville is tweeting updates as his convoy attempts to move forward in Mosul.

14:55 GMT: A colleague spotted the first civilians outside Abu Saif in the distance. They were carrying a white flag.

13:51 GMT: The day ends as it begins … bomb disposal team dealing with a roadside bomb.

13:00 GMT: Abandoned sports pitch. In two days of these operations I haven’t seen a single civilian. Everyone has fled. Above, helicopter gunship continues to attack Abu Saif town.

12:44 GMT: Just passed two IS fighter corpses in a ditch. Looks like they were hit by a mortar.

A soldier looks through the site of a mortar, set up on a rooftop
Image captionSoldiers set up artillery on the vantage point of a ruined palace, formerly belonging to Saddam Hussein’s brother

12:27 GMT: Federal policeman, Ali Lazim Lafta, was injured by an IS drone which dropped a grenade on his unit.

11:57 GMT: Coalition air strike on western Mosul. We can see the landmark Nineveh Hotel from here.

Follow Quentin Sommerville on Twitter


Iraqi forces have now all but surrounded the western part of Mosul.

Concern has been voiced by the UN about the welfare of civilians trapped in the city, amid reports that they could number up to 650,000.

Leaflets warning residents of an imminent offensive were earlier dropped over western parts.

Military officials say west, with its narrow, winding streets, may prove a bigger challenge than the east.

Although slightly smaller than the east, it is more densely populated and includes districts that are seen as pro-IS.

All bridges from there to the west of the city, across the Tigris river, were destroyed.

A ruined building, right, stands stop a small rise - overlooking the city of Mosul in the distance
Image captionIraq’s Federal Police are now within sight of Mosul, the BBC’s correspondent says

The offensive against the east was launched on 17 October, more than two years after jihadists overran Mosul before seizing control of much of northern and western Iraq.

The UN said in late January that almost half of all the casualties in Mosul were civilians.

At least 1,096 have been killed and 694 injured across Nineveh province since the start of October.

Trump tries to explain remark about Sweden amid confusion

Related Topics

Media caption“Sweden, they took in large numbers,” Donald Trump tells a crowd of supporters

US President Donald Trump has sought to explain why he referred to a security incident in Sweden on Friday which did not actually happen.

Addressing a rally on Saturday, he had said, “look at what’s happening last night in Sweden”, as he listed parts of Europe hit by terrorist attacks.

With no such incident reported in Sweden on Friday, the country asked the US administration for an explanation.

Mr Trump tweeted on Sunday that he had been referring to a TV report.

He said it had been broadcast on Fox News but did not say when. He may have been referring to a Fox News programme on Friday night, which looked at refugees and crime in Sweden.

Despite his words “happening last night in Sweden”, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said separately that Mr Trump had been talking about rising crime and recent incidents in general, not referring to a specific issue.

Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt was among those who mocked Mr Trump’s comment, suggesting that he had “been smoking”.

Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt tweet reads:

Social media users ridiculed the American leader, joking about imaginary situations involving Swedish institutions like the pop group Abba and furniture store Ikea.

‘A story that was broadcast’

On Sunday, Mr Trump tweeted: “My statement as to what’s happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.”

The Fox News report looked at gun violence and rape in Sweden since it opened its doors to large numbers of asylum-seekers in 2013.

Fox News is known to be among Donald Trump’s favourite cable TV channels.

President Trump’s remarks came at a big rally in Florida.

“You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden,” he said.

“Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible. You look at what’s happening in Brussels, you look at what’s happening all over the world. Take a look at Nice, take a look at Paris.”

What actually happened

No terrorist incidents were reported in Sweden on Friday.

Sweden’s Aftonbladet website summarised the news events of that day, which included:

  • A man setting himself on fire at a plaza in central Stockholm
  • Famous singer Owe Thornqvist suffering technical problems in rehearsals
  • A man killed in workplace accident
  • Road closures in northern Sweden due to “harsh weather”
  • A police car chase through central Stockholm after a suspected drunk driver

The mocking hashtag #lastnightinSweden was soon trending on Twitter.

Donald Trump’s comment came just weeks after one of his key advisers, Kellyanne Conway, cited a non-existent attack dubbed the “Bowling Green massacre”.

Refugee haven

Sweden, with a population of about 9.5m, has taken in nearly 200,000 refugees and migrants in recent years – more per capita than any other European country.

It saw a sharp increase in asylum seekers in 2015, with more than 160,000 people arriving. With the influx, tensions also rose with some isolated attacks on immigrants, as well as pro- and anti-migrant demonstrations.

The killing of a 22-year-old woman in January 2016 by an asylum seeker based at the centre where she worked put further pressure on the government to reassess its approach to refugees.

There was a drop in numbers last year after the country introduced new border checks incurring longer processing times, as well as financial incentives for migrants who voluntarily returned to their country of origin.

No terrorist attacks have been recorded in Sweden since the country’s open-door policy on migration began in 2013.

However, Sweden is believed to have the highest number of Islamic State fighters per capita in Europe. About 140 of the 300 who went to Syria and Iraq have since returned, leaving the authorities to grapple with how best to reintegrate them into society.

How Sweden became an exporter of jihad

North Korea Kim Jong-nam killing: Malaysia recalls Pyongyang envoy

  • From the sectionAsia
People watch a television showing news reports of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, at a railway station in Seoul oImage copyrightAFP
Image captionThe murder of Kim Jong-nam in Kuala Lumpur last week has sparked a diplomatic row

Malaysia has recalled its envoy to Pyongyang in an escalating row over the killing of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.

Kim Jong-nam died in mysterious circumstances last week at a Kuala Lumpur airport – police believe he was poisoned while waiting for a flight.

Malaysian police say they are now looking for four North Koreans.

Pyongyang’s envoy to Malaysia was also summoned over earlier comments he made.

Despite widespread speculation that North Korea was behind the killing, there has been no definitive evidence and Pyongyang has not issued an official statement yet.

South Korea has accused the North of orchestrating the incident, saying on Monday it was evidence of North Korean “terrorism getting bolder”.

Meanwhile a video which apparently shows CCTV footage of the attack on Kim Jong-nam has surfaced and aired on Japanese television.

A North Korean man (second right) identified by the Malaysian police as Ri Jon-chol is taken to a police station in Sepang, Malaysia, February 18, 2017.Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionOne North Korean man has already been arrested in connection with the case

What has led to the diplomatic spat?

Malaysia was one of very few countries to maintain diplomatic relations with North Korea, but this killing has strained ties.

Malaysia has refused to accede to North Korean demands to release Kim’s body into their custody without an autopsy.

It prompted Pyongyang’s ambassador to Malaysia, Kang Chol, to accuse Kuala Lumpur on Friday of colluding with “hostile forces”, saying that Malaysia had “something to conceal”.

This provoked an angry response from the Malaysian foreign ministry which said his accusation was “baseless”, adding that it was their responsibility to conduct an investigation as Kim had died on Malaysian soil.

In this image made from video, North Korean Ambassador to Malaysia Kang Chol speaks to the media gathered outside the morgue in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, 17 February 2017.Image copyrightAP
Image captionKang Chol has been summoned by Malaysia’s foreign ministry following his remarks on Friday

What’s happening to Kim’s body?

Malaysian authorities are now waiting for the results of its autopsy. Kang Chol said his country would reject the result as it was done without their presence.

Malaysia has also refused to release Kim’s body, saying it needs to conduct DNA testing first.

Police are now seeking samples from family members. Kim is believed to have family living in Beijing and Macau.

Malaysian police have said that if there is no claim by next of kin and once they exhaust all avenues for DNA collection, they will hand the body over to the North Korean embassy.

Who has been arrested so far?

Kim is believed to have been attacked in the Kuala Lumpur airport departure hall on Monday by the two women, using some form of chemical.

Fuji TV has aired grainy CCTV footage showing a man resembling Kim Jong-nam approached by a woman at the airport.

Another woman then quickly lunges from behind and wipes his face with a cloth. She is seen wearing a white top emblazoned with the letters “LOL”.

Grainy image shows a woman with brown hair wearing a T-shirt with the letters Image copyrightREX/SHUTTERSTOCK
Image captionThis CCTV image has been broadcast by South Korean and Malaysian media

The man is then seen seeking assistance from airport staff while gesturing at his face, and is escorted to a room.

Two women, one Indonesian and one Vietnamese, were among the first to be arrested. The Indonesian, named as Siti Aisyah, is said to have told Malaysian police she had been paid to perform what she thought was a prank.

Police have also detained one North Korean suspect, Ri Jong-chol, and said they are looking for four more men, who may have already left the country.

The men have been named as Ri Ji Hyon, 33; Hong Song Hac, 34; O Jong Gil, 55, and Ri Jae Nam, 57.

Handout pictures released by the Royal Malaysian Police in Kuala Lumpur on February 19, 2017 showing CCTV images and passport style photos of suspects Hong Song Hac, Ri Ji Hyon.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionHong Song Hac, 34, and Ri Ji Hyon, 33, are wanted by Malaysian police

Who was Kim Jong-nam?

Kim was the first-born son of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011.

He was largely estranged from his family, after being passed over for the North Korean leadership in favour of his youngest half-brother.

He went into exile in the early 2000s, spending most of his time in Macau, mainland China and Singapore.

Deceased North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (left) with his first-born son Kim Jong-nam (right) in a 1981 family photoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionDeceased North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (left) with his first-born son Kim Jong-nam (right) in a 1981 family photo

Kim had spoken out in the past against his family’s dynastic control of North Korea and in a 2012 book was quoted as saying he believed his younger half-brother lacked leadership qualities.

But he had also said he was not interested in assuming the leadership himself.

North Korean family tree showing Kim Jong Nam as the son of Kim Jong-il and Sung-Hae-rim

Mosul offensive: Iraqi army resumes advance on IS bastion

 

Iraqi soldier during a Mosul offensive. Photo: 20 February 2017
Image captionIraqi troops seized several villages during the first day of the offensive

Iraqi government forces have resumed their push towards western Mosul, the last major stronghold of so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq.

Artillery fire could be heard in the distance, reports the BBC’s Quentin Sommerville, who is embedded with government troops.

Launching the operation on Sunday, the army seized several villages.

The eastern part of the city was liberated from IS last month after heavy fighting.

Thousands of troops are involved in the assault, backed by artillery and air power.

Their progress has been slowed down by huge improvised explosive devices planted by IS along the route of the offensive, our correspondent says.

Bomb disposal teams are being used to clear them.

Media captionQuentin Sommerville, speaking at the weekend: “They are getting ready for the battle”

In their assault, Iraqi soldiers have been using heavy weapons, including rocket missile launchers, our correspondent adds.


On the ground with Iraqi forces

Photo taken by Quentin Sommerville from Iraqi convoy

The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville is embedded with Iraqi forces as they advance on Mosul. He is tweeting updates as his convoy attempts to move forward:

04:15 GMT: Convoy halted by suspected roadside bomb – IS have planted huge improvised explosives devices along the route.

04:19 GMT: The EOD, or bomb disposal, team are attempting to safely detonate the device.

04:36 GMT: Bomb disposal team heading back to the suspected roadside bomb for a second time. It seems their controlled explosion hasn’t worked.

04:36 GMT: No bang. And we can proceed.

Iraqi member of EOD team inspecting ground for secondary bombs, outside Mosul (20 Feb 2017)
Image captionAn EOD team member looks for secondary bombs before the convoy can proceed further

04:36 GMT: EOD team checking for secondary bombs.

04:36 GMT: This will be slow progress if it continues.

Follow Quentin Sommerville on Twitter


Iraqi forces have now all but surrounded the western part of Mosul.

Concern has been voiced by the UN about the welfare of civilians trapped in Mosul, amid reports that they could number up to 650,000.

Leaflets warning residents of an imminent offensive were earlier dropped over the west of the city.

Military officials say the western side of the city, with its narrow, winding streets, may prove a bigger challenge than the east.

They say that western Mosul, although slightly smaller than the east, is more densely populated and includes districts that are seen as pro-IS.

All bridges from there to the west of the city, across the Tigris river, were destroyed.

The offensive against the eastern part of the city was launched on 17 October, more than two years after jihadists overran Mosul before seizing control of much of northern and western Iraq.

The UN said in late January that almost half of all the casualties in Mosul were civilians.

At least 1,096 have been killed and 694 injured across Nineveh province since the start of October.

Map of Mosul city showing areas of control

Tony Blair calls for people to ‘rise up’ against Brexit

Media captionTony Blair wants the UK to find “a way out from the present rush over the cliff’s edge”

Tony Blair has said it is his “mission” to persuade Britons to “rise up” and change their minds on Brexit.

Speaking in the City of London, the former prime minister claimed that people voted in the referendum “without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit”.

He urged “a way out from the present rush over the cliff’s edge”.

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said the comments were arrogant and undemocratic but Lib Dem Nick Clegg said he “agreed with every word”.

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage said Mr Blair was “yesterday’s man” while Downing Street said it was “absolutely committed” to seeing Brexit through.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson added: “I urge the British people to rise up and turn off the TV next time Blair comes on with his condescending campaign.”

Prime Minister Theresa May wants to trigger formal Brexit talks by the end of March – a move which was backed in the House of Commons by MPs last week.

‘Opportunity to reconsider’

Mr Blair, who was UK prime minister between 1997 and 2007, used the speech to the pro-European campaign group Open Britain to argue that leaving the EU would be “painful” for Britain and Europe and the benefits would be “largely illusory”.

Media captionBoris Johnson says Tony Blair’s Brexit campaign is “condescending”

Mr Blair, who campaigned to remain in the EU, said that while he accepted that people voted to leave by 52% to 48%, he would recommend looking again at Brexit when “we have a clear sense of where we’re going”.

Pressed on whether he thought there should be a second referendum, he said: “All I’m saying is a very, very simple thing, that this is the beginning of the debate – that if a significant part of that 52% show real change of mind, however you measure it, we should have the opportunity to reconsider this decision.

“Whether you do it through another referendum or another method, that’s a second order question.

“But this issue is the single most important decision this country has taken since the Second World War and debate can’t now be shut down about it.”


Tony Blair speaking in central LondonImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Analysis by political correspondent Tom Bateman

Tony Blair’s warnings about the risks of Brexit might have made some viewers believe the referendum campaign was still being fought.

But his central political point takes us onto new ground – that the voters could still change their minds about leaving the EU and Remainers should persuade them to do so.

It will be seen by some as a call to arms – Tony Blair’s Brexit insurrection.

Brexiteer MPs were unsurprisingly excoriating, with the foreign secretary hinting at what Mr Blair’s opponents see as his toxicity after the Iraq war.

But importantly the former PM’s speech raises a tactical question for Remainer MPs wondering what to do next: fight for Brexit on their terms or fight Brexit itself.


In the absence of an effective opposition, he said pro-Europeans needed to build a “movement ” reaching across party lines, he said, adding the institute he is launching would play its part in developing the arguments to rethink the country’s position.

“The debilitation of the Labour Party is the facilitator of Brexit. I hate to say that, but it is true.”

‘Pain and gain’

While he fully accepted immigration was “a substantial issue”, he said it had become the “primary consideration” for the government and suggested the public were more concerned about arrivals from outside the EU.

Mr Blair has faced criticism in the past for his government’s decision to allow people from Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to work in Britain without restrictions, while most EU states imposed transitional controls to slow the rate of migration.

Media captionIain Duncan Smith: “Tony Blair Brexit speech was arrogant”

Mr Blair stressed that the Conservative government only “has bandwidth for only one thing – Brexit”, at the cost of the NHS, education, investment in communities, the rise in serious crime, the increased burden of social care and control of immigration.

“This is a government for Brexit, of Brexit and dominated by Brexit, he said, adding that the issue was the government’s “waking thought, the daily grind, the meditation before sleep and the stuff of its dreams or nightmares”.

‘Bullying’

Iain Duncan Smith, who was a prominent Leave campaigner, said Mr Blair had shown the political elite was completely out of touch with the British people.

He compared Mr Blair returning to the political scene to the British horror comedy “Shaun of the Dead”, with “his hands outstretched to tell the British people they were too stupid to be able to understand what they were voting on”, adding that this “is both arrogant and a form of bullying”.

Leave voters in Sunderland during the EU referendum count
Image caption51.9% of UK voters backed leaving the EU in June

And Mr Farage described Mr Blair as a “former heavyweight champion coming out of retirement” who would “end up on the canvas”.

Kate Hoey, a prominent Leave campaigner and Labour former minister, told the BBC she did not think anyone would take Mr Blair’s “patronising” opinion seriously.

“I’m really quite sad that he doesn’t feel that as a former prime minister – he’s travelled all round the world, he’s made himself lots of money – he’s come back. Why doesn’t he just now go and find himself a job?”

Brexit bill

But Alan Johnson, who led Labour’s campaign to keep Britain in the EU – urged people to listen to the message, not the messenger.

Stressing he would not rule out a second referendum, Mr Johnson said people are concerned that Britain could end up as a “low tax, anything goes, race-to-the-bottom kind of country” post Brexit.

Supporters of leaving the EU argue it will free up the UK to trade better globally and give the government better control of immigration.

Earlier this month, MPs overwhelmingly agreed, by 494 votes to 122, to let the government begin the UK’s departure from the EU by voting for the Brexit bill.

The Commons vote prompted splits in the Labour party. Despite calls by leader Jeremy Corbyn for his party to back the government, 52 MPs rebelled.

Lib Dem attempts to amend the bill to include a provision for another referendum were defeated by 340 votes to 33.

GOP leaders unveil new health law outline, divisions remain

WASHINGTON (AP) — Top House Republicans unveiled a rough sketch of a massive health care overhaul to rank-and-file lawmakers Thursday, but a lack of detail, cost estimates and GOP unity left unresolved the problem that’s plagued them for years: What’s the party’s plan and can Congress pass it?

At a closed-door meeting in the Capitol basement, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and other party leaders described a broad vision for voiding much of President Barack Obama’s 2010 statute and replacing it with conservative policies. It features a revamped Medicaid program for the poor, tax breaks to help people pay doctors’ bills and federally subsidized state pools to assist those with costly medical conditions in buying insurance.

Lawmakers called the ideas options, and many were controversial. One being pushed by Ryan and other leaders would replace the tax increases in Obama’s law with new levies on the value of some employer-provided health plans — a political no-fly zone for Republicans averse to tax boosts.

“You have to legislate with a sense of political reality,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who said backing that proposal “would set up an ad against you from multiple directions” during upcoming elections.

The scant health care progress mirrors a lack of movement on other issues in a capital run by the GOP. No proposals have surfaced to pursue President Donald Trump’s campaign promises to build a border wall with Mexico or buttress the nation’s infrastructure, and Republicans have yet to coalesce around another priority, revamping the nation’s tax code.

Senate Republicans have criticized a House GOP plan to change how corporations are taxed. Trump has said he will release his own proposal in the coming weeks, but nothing had been produced, drawing mockery from Democrats.

“At some point we need to move from imaginary made-up plans to things that you can read on paper,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.

The health care outline was aimed at giving Republicans something to exhibit during next week’s congressional recess, at a time of boisterous town hall meetings packed with supporters of Obama’s law. Ryan told reporters that Republicans would introduce legislation voiding and replacing Obama’s statute after Congress returns in late February, but offered no specifics.

Many Republicans took an upbeat tone after Thursday’s meeting, with Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., saying, “We’re only 27 days into the new administration, so we have time.”

But they have repeatedly failed for seven years to rally behind a substitute plan, and there are no guarantees of success in replacing a law that has extended coverage to 20 million Americans.

“We’re not going to get out of this overnight,” Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., said of the overall effort.

There are sure clashes ahead this time over crucial specifics that could jeopardize the entire effort. And lawmakers said they were awaiting official cost estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which could ignite other battles if the price tag is disconcertingly high.

Obama’s law levied $1.1 trillion in taxes over a decade to finance its expanded coverage to millions. GOP leaders said some or all of those taxes could be repealed, with the revenue replaced by a new tax on health care that employees receive at work.

Two people familiar with the proposal said individuals would pay taxes on the value of such coverage above $12,000, and above $30,000 for families. Republicans would not confirm those amounts, though House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, told reporters “the vast, vast majority of Americans” would be unaffected.

According to documents distributed to members and obtained by The Associated Press, the expansion of Medicaid to millions of additional poorer people — almost entirely financed by federal taxpayers — would be phased out. In a compromise aimed at resolving a bitter dispute, extra Medicaid money would flow to the 31 states that accepted that expansion and the 19 that didn’t, though it would end “after a certain date” left unspecified.

After that, states would get far more discretion to decide who would be covered by Medicaid. They’d also decide whether to receive federal Medicaid funds based on the fluctuating numbers of the program’s beneficiaries or a set annual amount.

The tax penalties Obama’s law levies on people who don’t buy insurance would be abolished, as would federal subsidies for most people buying coverage on the online exchanges the statute established. They would be replaced by tax credits for people who don’t have job- or government-provided health coverage and tax-advantaged health savings accounts. Republicans said decisions on amounts have not been made.

___

AP congressional correspondent Erica Werner and reporters Matthew Daly and Stephen Ohlemacher contributed to this report.

Trump seeks pause in legal fight with revised travel ban

AP Top News

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The Trump administration said in court documents on Thursday it wants a pause in the legal fight over its ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations, so it can issue a replacement ban as it strives to protect the nation from terrorism.

Details of the new proposal were not provided in the filing or at a wide-ranging news conference by President Donald Trump. But lawyers for the administration said in the filing that a ban that focuses solely on foreigners who have never entered the U.S. — instead of green card holders already in the U.S. or who have traveled abroad and want to return — would pose no legal difficulties.

“In so doing, the president will clear the way for immediately protecting the country rather than pursuing further, potentially time-consuming litigation,” the filing said.

Trump said at the news conference that a new order would come next week.

“I will not back down from defending our country. I got elected on defense of our country,” he said.

Legal experts said a new order focusing only on residents of the seven countries who had never entered the U.S. would still face legal hurdles over possible religious discrimination.

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, believes Trump would eliminate some major problems with the new focus.

“But I think that it will definitely still end up in court,” she said.

Stephen Vladeck, who teaches at the University of Texas School of Law, said the states challenging the current ban — Washington and Minnesota — would likely change their lawsuit to focus on any revised order.

“It will surely be a mess — and perhaps a repeat of some of the chaos we saw the first weekend of the original order,” Vladeck wrote in an email.

The administration asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to hold off on making any more decisions related to the lawsuit until the new order is issued, and then toss out last week’s decision by a three-judge 9th Circuit panel that kept the ban on hold.

The 9th Circuit said late Thursday it will hold off on deciding whether to have a larger panel of judges reconsider that ruling.

The appeals court had asked the Trump administration and Washington and Minnesota to file arguments on whether a larger panel should rehear the case.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the federal government was “conceding defeat” by saying it does not want a larger appellate panel to review last week’s ruling. The three judges who issued that decision rejected the Trump administration’s claim of presidential authority and questioned its motives in ordering the ban.

The administration attacked the decision in Thursday’s court filing, saying the panel wrongly suggested some foreigners may be entitled to constitutional protections. The filing also rejected the judges’ determination that courts could consider Trump’s statements about shutting down Muslim immigration.

The lawsuit says the ban unconstitutionally blocks entry to the U.S. on the basis of religion and harms residents, universities and sales tax revenue in the two states. Eighteen other states, including California and New York, have supported the challenge.

In his filing with the 9th Circuit Thursday, Washington state Solicitor General Noah Purcell said the ruling by the three-judge panel was consistent with previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions, so there was no basis for a review.

Purcell said Trump had campaigned on the promise to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. and one week into office issued the order that “radically changed immigration policy” and “unleashed chaos around the world.”

The three-judge panel said the states had raised “serious” allegations that the ban targets Muslims, and it rejected the federal government’s argument that courts do not have the authority to review the president’s immigration and national security decisions.

The three judges said the Trump administration presented no evidence that any foreigner from the seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — was responsible for a terrorist attack in the U.S.

In Thursday’s filing, the administration said the ban was intended to prevent potential attacks from “nationals of seven countries that were previously found to present uniquely high risks of terrorism.”

The ban does not discriminate on the basis of religion because it affects only a fraction of the world’s Muslim population and also applies to non-Muslims in those countries, the administration said.

___

AP writer Martha Bellisle in Seattle contributed to this report.

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Traditional Thai Massage - Relaxation Massage and Yoga in Mill Creek, Bothell, Everett, Lynnwood, WA

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